LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Kyle Wiltjer's 14 points led five Kentucky players in double figures as the Wildcats outlasted Auburn 72-62 Saturday for their fifth straight win.
Though tighter than the Wildcats' 75-53 beating of the Tigers three weeks ago at Auburn, the victory provided their longest winning streak this season and some momentum before Tuesday's Southeastern Conference showdown at first-place Florida. The Wildcats (17-6, 8-2) began the day a game behind the Gators.
Kentucky survived physical and sometimes chippy play by Auburn, which saw center Rob Chubb
and backup Asauhn Dixon-Tatum
foul out. The Wildcats made 26 of 38 free throws to beat Auburn for the 15th straight time.Ryan Harrow
and Willie Cauley-Stein
each added 12 points, while Julius Mays
and Nerlens Noel
had 10 apiece. Noel added 11 rebounds for his third straight double-double but blocked his only shot in the final minutes.Chris Denson
's 15 points led Auburn (9-14, 3-7).
Kentucky didn't expect this game to be as easy as its 22-point victory at Auburn, when the Wildcats shot 67 percent in the second half and 55 percent overall. That marked their most decisive SEC win this season until they matched it in Tuesday night's 77-55 romp over South Carolina.
What coach John Calipari and the Rupp Arena crowd, which included the Wildcats' 1978 national championship team, got from his young squad was another dose of grind-it-out basketball similar to the first half of the teams' previous meeting, this time stretched over 40 minutes.
Both teams shot 43 percent, with Kentucky hitting 20 of 46 from the field while Auburn, which had been averaging 40 percent per game, was 22 of 51. The Wildcats outrebounded the Tigers 35-29 but had to work hard for each one.
And while Auburn continued to struggle making shots, the Tigers led three times early on and stayed close to Kentucky throughout the first half. The Tigers used a combination of man and zone defenses to cut off the Wildcats' inside penetration, along with aggressive double-teaming of Noel.
Kentucky started 4 of 10 while missing seven of eight 3-pointers but loosened up after Jarrod Polson
's 3-pointer, his first basket in three games, put the Wildcats up 16-14. The junior guard was effective during an initial 11-minute stint in place of Harrow, adding two rebounds and two assists.
Several small leads followed for the Wildcats, who fought through the pressure to draw fouls. Kentucky was 9 of 14 from the free throw line in the first half, helping provide a 37-31 halftime lead.
Auburn was just 11 of 29 from the field, though it made 6 of 9 beyond the arc and held its own in rebounding to stay close. But a late first-half confrontation under Kentucky's basket between the Tigers' Jordan Granger and the Wildcats' Archie Goodwin
ended with Granger's ejection with a flagrant-2 foul and two personals on Goodwin.
Fouls became a bigger issue for Auburn early in the second half after Chubb picked up two quick ones and went to the bench with four at the 16:15 mark. Dixon-Tatum picked up his fourth soon after, opening a door for Kentucky.
The Wildcats took advantage at the line again as the Tigers' aggressiveness drifted toward chippy. After leading scorer Frankie Sullivan
was called for a flagrant-1 for wrapping up Wiltjer on a drive, the sophomore made both free throws.
Kentucky turned the ball over but Mays' 3-pointer from the top of the key on the next possession provided a 47-38 lead. That basket drew the ire of Auburn coach Tony Barbee, who slapped the ball out of Josh Wallace
's hands as the team gathered at the bench during a timeout.
Mays added two more free throws and Wiltjer followed with a 3-pointer, giving Kentucky its biggest lead at that point, 54-42, with 10:31 remaining. The Wildcats methodically stretched their lead, helped by Chubb's disqualification with 7:38 left, followed by Dixon-Tatum 54 seconds later.
Sullivan finished with eight points, half his average coming in.