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All Eyes On No. 12 Kentucky At No. 2 Auburn Saturday On CBS

Kentucky coach John Calipari did not wait long to watch film of No. 2 Auburn after his win at Texas A&M on Wednesday night.

“I started watching tape on the plane on the way back, and I was like, ‘Wow,'” he said Friday. “They’re really good.”

No. 12 Kentucky (15-3, 5-1 SEC) plays at Auburn (17-1, 6-0 SEC) at 1 p.m. eastern time Saturday on CBS for first place in the league.

The game is one of two top 25 matches in the SEC on Saturday with No. 13 LSU playing at No. 24 Tennessee (6 p.m. Eastern, ESPN).

“Probably the biggest home game we’ve had since I’ve been coaching,” said Auburn coach Bruce Pearl, who inherited a dead program in 2014 that had gone through three coaches and 9 losing seasons from 2002-14 but took it to an SEC title in 2018 and the Final Four in 2019.

“It’s a clash of the titans for sure,” Pearl said. “There’s a lot a stake here. It’s a huge opportunity for either team to put themselves in position where everybody else is going to be looking up at you.”

The game will match two of the top-scoring teams in the SEC as Kentucky is No. 1 in the league and No. 8 in the nation with 82.9 points a game. Auburn is No. 3 in the SEC and No. 20 nationally at 81.1 a game.

“They’re big. Their guard play — they shoot it,” Calipari said.

Freshman 6-foot-10 forward Jabari Smith leads Auburn with 15.8 points a game and has 6.3 rebounds a game, while sophomore guard K.D. Johnson is averaging 12.8 points. Sophomore 7-1 transfer center Walker Kessler, formerly of North Carolina, is scoring 10.3 a game with 7.4 rebounds.

“They do a lot of stuff to get lobs,” Calipari said.

Oscar Tshiebwe, a 6-9 junior forward, leads Kentucky with 16.1 points a game and is the nation’s top rebounder at 14.8 a game. Freshman 6-3 guard TyTy Washington Jr. is averaging 14.2 points with 6-5 senior guard Kellan Grady scoring 11.4. Two more players are in double figures – junior guard Sahvir Wheeler and 6-7 forward Keion Brooks Jr. at 10.4 a game.

Auburn has won 14 straight and is off to its best start in more than six decades.

Kentucky has won four in a row and eight of its last nine. A come-from-behind 64-58 victory at Texas A&M, which was 4-0 in the SEC, may have been excellent preparation for the raucous, capacity crowd 9,121 expected at Auburn. Students were camping out Friday night amid below-freezing temperatures to be among the first to get in.

“The environment was crazy,” Kentucky 6-9 junior forward Jacob Toppin said of the A&M game. “For us to stay together when they went on their runs, it’s big. Big time. It just shows the kind of group we are.”

Toppin had nine points and six rebounds off the bench.

“Down the stretch, we definitely made plays that won us that game. We did a pretty good job of finishing that game,” he said.

The Wildcats will likely have to do that again Saturday.

“It’s great that on a Saturday in the middle of January, all eyes of the country will be on Auburn, Alabama, on CBS on a Saturday afternoon,” Pearl said. “And it’ll be for men’s basketball. That’s something that you might not have said a few years ago.”

Written by Glenn Guilbeau

Guilbeau has been on the LSU beat since 1998 with multiple outlets in Louisiana, prior to that he had covered both Auburn and Alabama. He won first place for his game feature on LSU's upset at Florida last season from the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA). He was also named Beat Writer of Year, by Louisiana Sports Writers Association in July; placed in three Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE) categories – Beat Writer, Explanatory, Game Coverage – last spring. Guilbeau was also the FWAA first-place winner for columns in 2017 and was also the top overall winner in 2016 FWAA placing first for his game story, second in columns, and receiving honorable mention for features.

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