Kentucky basketball holds off Auburn to snap four-game losing streak

Kentucky basketball

Kentucky basketball holds off Auburn to snap four-game losing streak

LEXINGTON – Kentucky had been here before. Three previous times this season the Wildcats had led with four minutes left on the clock only to see a victory slip …

Kentucky basketball vs. Auburn: Cats snap four-game losing streak Louisville Courier Journal

LEXINGTON – Kentucky had been here before.

Three previous times this season the Wildcats had led with four minutes left on the clock only to see a victory slip away. Kentucky had been outscored by 39 points in the entering Saturday’s contest against Auburn.

So, when the Tigers rallied from a 14-point second-half deficit to tie the game at 77 with 46 seconds remaining on a fast-break layup off a Kentucky turnover, no one in Kentucky’s huddle could have been confident the outcome would go the Wildcats’ way.

Only this time Kentucky made the plays in the final minute it had so often failed to do during an embarrassing season. A crucial 3 from Davion Mintz and a couple of key rebounds later, Kentucky had escaped Rupp Arena with an 82-80 victory.

While beating an Auburn team ineligible for postseason play due to a self-imposed ban that entered the day in 10th place in the Southeastern Conference standings will do little to change the outlook of Kentucky’s season by itself, there were several positive signs on display for John Calipari’s team.

Like he did against Arkansas, Mintz hit the go-ahead 3 against Auburn, atoning for his turnover on the previous possession that had allowed Auburn to tie the game.

Jackson then blocked Sharife Cooper’s layup attempt, and sophomore forward Jacob Toppin came down with the rebound. Toppin hit 1 of 2 free throws to stretch the lead to two possessions. Auburn missed two attempts at a basket on its next possession before Jackson grabbed his 11th rebound of the game and converted 1 of 2 free throws with six seconds remaining to clinch the win.

The victory is not the first time Kentucky has looked on the verge of a possible breakthrough this season – see double-digit wins over Florida and LSU – but only twice before this season against Mississippi State and Vanderbilt had Kentucky executed enough down the stretch of a close game.

Even after the win, Kentucky has no realistic chance to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament in the final three weeks of the season. Everything is about preparing to make a run at the SEC’s automatic bid in the SEC Tournament in Nashville.

To win the SEC Tournament, the Wildcats will almost certainly have to come through in a close game. At least now they know they are capable.

“I just want to keep painting the picture that I believe in you,” Calipari said. “We have some flaws. We have some limitations. But guess what? So does everybody else. … We have enough to win.”

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