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Not Pretty, But Kentucky Escapes at Auburn

This story appears courtesy of KY Forward and is written by James Pennington. KY Forward's coverage of UK Athletics is sponsored by Republic Bank.

On one hand, No. 14 Kentucky didn’t lose Wednesday, and because there are no ties in basketball, that means the Wildcats won. Indeed they did, with an 64-56 winning total on the road over Auburn. On the other hand, Kentucky’s second seemingly indifferent offensive performance in a row against a bottom-rung SEC opponent doesn’t bode well for a team with its last chance to figure things out against live competition before Saturday’s game against No. 3 Florida.

But a win is a win, and it should be valued as such. Kentucky (19-5, 9-2) improved its record and remained two games behind the Gators in the SEC standings despite shooting 30.9 percent from the field, by far its worst percentage this season.

Auburn’s poor play in the first half masked the Wildcats’ woes; the Tigers scored eight points in the game’s first seven minutes, and their high-scoring guard duo of Chris Denson and KT Harrell were held to two points. Harrell never warmed up in the first half, but Denson did. He had nine points at halftime.

Kentucky missed its last 10 shots in the first half, six of which were at the rim, over the final seven minutes before halftime. Again, Auburn helped by only hitting one from the field in that stretch, and Kentucky led 28-22 at the break thanks to 7-of-13 free-throw shooting.

When Auburn finally started to score in the second half—it was mostly Denson, but with Auburn it usually is—Kentucky’s offensive futility was no longer hiding in plain sight. The Tigers went on a 16-4 run early in the second half, and they took their first lead of the game at 36-35.

Andrew and Aaron Harrison woke up the Wildcats’ offense about midway into the second half, and the push was enough to put them over the top. Kentucky scored nine straight—the Harrison twins scored seven of those—to earn a 51-43 lead with 3:36 to play.

Still, Kentucky was not set on closing out Auburn so easily. The Wildcats missed at least one free throw per trip to the line over seven trips in the game’s final two minutes, a streak perpetrated by four separate players: Julius Randle, Andrew Harrison, James Young and Alex Poythress.

Andrew Harrison led the Wildcats with 16 points and five rebounds; he was 8 of 11 from the free-throw line. Randle finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds. Denson led all scorers with 26 points.

KyForward.com was not in Auburn, Ala., to cover the game. This report was compiled via television coverage.