Tigers wilt against Kentucky

AUBURN - No layup was too easy, no jump shot too open, no putback to routine. Auburn players missed them all with regularity.

Jordan Price tries to get up a shot against Kentucky defense/Todd Van Emst photo

And on a Saturday night set up for big things, before a noisy sellout crowd at Auburn Arena against a Kentucky team that had been more reputation than accomplishment throughout the season, the Tigers fell hard.

When called on to show third-year coach Tony Barbee's basketball team could compete at the top of the Southeastern Conference, they instead showed Auburn and Kentucky basketball still live in very different places.

The Wildcats ran away from a 30-25 halftime lead to lead by as many as 27 points and put down the Tigers 75-53. It was the most lopsided home loss in Barbee's time at Auburn. It was Kentucky's 14th consecutive win over Auburn and 28th in the last 29 games.

The Tigers put up 15 3-point shots, most of them uncontested. None went down. Not one. That had not happened since the 1997 season at Ole Miss.

Senior guard Frankie Sullivan scored 12 points, but he had to take 16 shots to do it. He was disgusted when it was over.

"Scared," Sullivan said, spitting the word out like a bitter dose of something vile. "We just played scared, point-blank and simple. Wide-open jump shots, layup after layup. You can't beat anybody playing like that. We just have to face the fact we didn't come out to play today. We stopped fighting in our home. We had a great crowd come out to support us tonight and we let them down."

Why? How? Sullivan shook his head.

"I don't know," he said. "I guess the moment. I can't tell you. It wasn't one person. It was the whole team. We have t come back and face the fact and play better. You can't have losses like that at home. It's embarrassing."

Both teams struggled to score for most of the first half. Auburn went to the locker room trialing 30-25 and very much in things. But the Wildcats started to hit shots and kept on hitting them, going 18-for-27 in the second half. The Tigers never did start hitting them.

By the 12:45 mark, Kentucky had gone up by 16. The outcome was no longer in question. It was only a matter of how bad it would get. And it got bad.

It had to be particularly distasteful for Barbee, who played and coached for Kentucky head coach John Calipari. Barbee acknowledged it was a bad night, but he vowed it wouldn't last.

"We let our lack of whatever it was offensively, whatever it was - our lack of confidence, we were scared of the moment, I don't know what you want to call it," Barbee said. "We played well defensively early. We were getting stops and we were getting everything we wanted offensively. You can't beat a team like that without taking advantage of the opportunities when they present themselves. We've got 50 percent 3-point shooters on this team. Of our 15 3-pointers, one of them was kind of guarded. Kind of guarded. The other 14 were like wide-open, nobody near you."

So it was that Auburn fell to 8-9 on the season and 2-2 in the Southeastern Conference. Kentucky improved to 12-5 and 3-1.

"I told our guys we should all look in the mirror," Barbee said. "I got outcoached. We got outplayed. We can't let this one loss affect what we've built in conference play. We have to get back to fighting and competing, no matter what takes place offensively. We did not do that tonight. We started that way, but as the drought continued, we let that affect our level of fight and our level of defense."

Junior guard Chris Denson and freshman guard Jordan Price returned from being sidelined by stress fractures. Denson was 0-for-4 from the field and Price 0-for-2. Neither scored a point.

Auburn hit 23-of-66 from the field for 34.8 percent. Kentucky hit 30-of-55 for 54.5 percent.

Barbee said his team has shown it will fight and said he expects it to fight again.

"This team has too much fight and too much grit in it to let it affect them over the long haul," Barbee said.

Auburn goes on the road next Wednesday to play Vanderbilt.

Freshman Shaq Johnson did not play in the first half for what Barbee called disciplinary reasons.

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