The Wildcats were comfortable, if not particularly spectacular as they knocked off Missouri 66-58 on Tuesday night. Next up is a much more interesting game against an Auburn team that is better than most people think.
By Steve Wright
Here are the three keys:
Step up to cover for Reid Travis
Graduate transfer Travis has been an important cog in the Kentucky machine this year. The physical forward has always impacted games, even when not scoring, while he has put together some big performances in the games where the Wildcats have needed his presence and experience. One such game was back in January when Auburn and Kentucky met for the first time. In that game Travis (who averages 11.6 points and 7.1 rebounds per game) went off for 17 points to help lead Kentucky to victory. On Saturday, the Wildcats will need to find a scoring and rebounding threat to replace the injured Travis.
It looks like the knee injury Travis suffered in the Mizzou game is relatively minor and will only keep him out of action for a couple of weeks. That means it is time for EK Montgomery and Nick Richards to step up and show what they can do with extended minutes. The two players combined for just one point against Auburn last time out, a number that won’t be enough this weekend as their scoring load must increase to help Kentucky win.
Beware the three point shot
Bruce Pearl led teams are never afraid to shoot the ball from deep. Auburn this season is certainly no exception to that general rule.
The return of center Austin Wiley from a knee injury might impact the metrics here a little, but when the two teams meet on Saturday the Tigers will start the game having taken over 300 more three-point shots this season than the Wildcats.
Auburn is over the 750 three-point shot mark for the season while Kentucky sits at 449 attempts in 2018-19. That is obviously a vast difference and if the Auburn shooters are draining their shots then it will be a long day for Kentucky.
That was the case on Wednesday when Auburn went 17-of-33 from deep against Arkansas in a 79-56 win. Bryce Brown is probably the player to watch here, he hit five shots from downtown against the Hogs, but there are numerous Auburn players who can get hot and keep the Tigers in the game against Kentucky with their outside shooting.
Win the rebounding battle
Playing against a team that is going to bomb threes all game long makes rebounding even more of a key than normal.
When you add in that Wiley is now back in the Tigers lineup, he missed the first clash with Kentucky, and that Travis will be out for the Wildcats, then suddenly the rebounding battle gets a little more interesting.
Wiley has only averaged seven minutes per game since returning to the team, but his presence and sheer size if he can increase his minutes in this one will make him difficult to move from the low block. How Kentucky deals with missed three-point shots is going to be a massive key.