Bruce Pearl just got the biggest win of his career at Auburn.
The second-year coach watched his 7-8 team earn a hard-fought 75-70 victory over No. 14 Kentucky (13-4) on Saturday. What’s even more incredible is that Auburn was hardly at full strength. Injuries have prevented the Tigers from playing a healthy season for most of 2015-16, which tells you this outcome speaks more to Kentucky’s flaws than Auburn’s sleeper status in the SEC.
This was certainly a surprising outcome, but that’s only from the perspective of these teams were thought of before this game. On its home floor, Auburn looked like Kentucky’s equal. They played a game that had 11 ties and 11 lead changes, the final one breaking Auburn’s way after Kareem Canty’s and-one gave Auburn a 68-67 lead with 1:32 remaining.
Despite pleas against it from the public address announcer, Auburn fans steadily stormed the court, which will bring a $50,000 fine toward the school. I’d guess Bruce Pearl will gladly sign that check.
Auburn Arena was a madhouse after the Tigers took down Kentucky. pic.twitter.com/IUGDfvi1FT
— CBS Sports CBB (@CBSSportsCBB) January 16, 2016
Auburn hasn’t beaten a ranked opponent since 2009. This is probably among a handful of the sweetest wins in Pearl’s life as a coach. It’s why he took on the challenge of changing a culture at a football-first school less tan two years ago.
John Calipari’s got some problems here because this team is seemingly fully healthy, yet the offense isn’t fluid and outside of Tyler Ulis, nobody can consistently perform. Jamal Murray had 20 points, but he also fouled out, shooting just 8-of-22. UK had twice as many fouls, was bullied on the boards and got unlucky in the sense that Auburn hit 12 of its 26 3s.
For Wildcats fans, it’s back to wait-and-see mode, something they are familiar with. The 2012-13 and 2013-14 teams had a lot of warts on the surface in those regular seasons. In 2015-16, Kentucky’s resume losses are all against teams ranked 61st or worst at KenPom.com. The best wins have come against Duke (a flawed, blue-blood team in its own right this year), Louisville and Arizona State. The SEC is not a great league, and at this point, Texas A&M (15-2) looks to be the conference front runner.