Takeaways from Kentucky Wildcats' Woeful Performance Against the Auburn Tigers

Jason MarcumCorrespondent IIIFebruary 18, 2017

John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

The No. 14 Kentucky Wildcats didn't play the prettiest of games against the Auburn Tigers on Wednesday night, but they did just enough to escape with a 64-56 victory.

It wasn't the prettiest of wins, but winning on the road in the SEC is never an easy task, especially when you're Kentucky.

UK is now 19-5 on the year and 8-2 in the SEC, two games behind the No. 3 Florida Gators, whom they'll be hosting on Saturday with the whole world able to watch.

Rupp Arena will be the featured venue for ESPN College GameDay, as the two best teams in the SEC face each other for the first time this year. That game could ultimately help decide who wins the SEC regular season championship.

At 11-0, UK can't afford to lose Saturday and have any hope of overcoming the Gators to win the SEC crown. But for now, there's a lot the 'Cats need to work on before Saturday's game after the way they performed vs. Auburn and here are three takeaways from that game.


Offense Must Improve

The 'Cats had one of their worst offensive performances of the year vs. the Tigers. Auburn tends to play with smaller lineups that leave their interior defense weakened. Going into this game, their two-point defense ranked 89th in the nation and their overall defense ranked 127th, according to TeamRankings.com.

Looking at the box score of this game shows that 33 of UK's 55 field-goal attempts were two-point shots, and it was clear UK was looking to attack Auburn in and around the paint while not settling for long jumpers.

Still, the 'Cats managed to shoot a woeful 17-of-55 from the field and finished with their second-lowest point total (64) in a game this year. The lowest was in a 67-62 loss to the Baylor Bears, which shows that any quality team would have probably beaten UK on Wednesday night. 

The Tigers are tied for the second-worst SEC record at 3-8, and playing that poorly against a team that bad is simply unacceptable for a team hoping to make a run at the NCAA Final Four this year.

If the 'Cats don't improve their offense in a hurry, Florida will run UK right out of Rupp Arena on Saturday. 


Free Throw Woes Continue

UK has struggled at the free-throw line for much of the year and against Auburn, the 'Cats hit just nine of their 16 shots from the charity stripe over the final 1:39 minutes of the game.

That will cost them against any quality team but against a .500 team like Auburn, they were able to overcome it.

For the night, UK hit just 25-of-40, which amounts to a 62.5-percent effort. These young 'Cats need to start making a better effort to improve at the charity stripe before it costs them dearly in the NCAA tournament. 


Willie Comes Alive

One of the biggest knocks on sophomore center Willie Cauley-Stein has been his "passive" style of play, which has now led to him losing his starting spot to freshman center Dakari Johnson. Rarely does Cauley-Stein catch the ball and look to attack the rim, but for once he showed a willingness to do so.

Cauley-Stein caught the ball out on the wing with a clear lane to the basket and instead of passing it to a guard like he often does in that scenario, he drove hard to the rim and emphatically dunked over two Tigers defenders:

That is the kind of play the 'Cats need from Willie and if he keeps that up, he could find himself back in the starting lineup eventually. 

At the end of the day, a win is a win and with a date against Florida on Saturday, UK took care of business against Auburn. Now, they have a chance to get a signature win against a team that looks like a Final Four contender. 


Jason Marcum is a student in the B/R advanced sports media program. You can find more of his work at Stripe Hype and follow him on Twitter @UK_Fans