Kentucky Basketball: Wildcats Must Build on Auburn Win to Make NCAA Tournament

Matt Overing@@MOveringContributor IIIJanuary 20, 2013

Jan 19, 2013; Auburn, AL, USA: Kentucky Wildcats forward Nerlens Noel (3) takes a shot against the Auburn Tigers during the first half at Auburn Arena.  Mandatory Credit: John Reed-USA TODAY Sports
John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

Road struggles have plagued the Kentucky Wildcats this season. On Jan. 19 at Auburn, the Wildcats had no such struggle, something that is a good sign moving forward.

Kentucky dominated on the road for the first time all year. This road win must be improved upon for SEC play, but more importantly, for the NCAA tournament.

It has been a rough start to the season for the now 12-5 (3-1) Kentucky Wildcats. The year has been filled with lows, one of the lowest being on Jan. 12. Kentucky lost to Texas A&M at home, 83-71. 

After that game, it was a very real possibility that the Wildcats could miss the NCAA tournament for the first time under head coach John Calipari. 

Kentucky was 10-5 with only one quality win—in its first game of the year (vs. Maryland).

The SEC schedule will be brutal. It includes two home games against Missouri and Florida plus eight road games, leaving little room for error. Road games have not been kind to the Wildcats this season.

But Kentucky played differently in Auburn, particularly in the second half. 

Kentucky has eased off of the throttle in the second half of games this season, most recently against Vanderbilt. 

Against Auburn, Kentucky was up five at halftime and finished with a 22-point lead. Hot shooting in the second half fueled the Wildcats' victory.

When have we been able to say that this season?

We haven't.

This game was clearly a giant step in the right direction for Kentucky. Not only is this a sign that the Wildcats can succeed on the road, but it can be a confidence builder heading into a tough stretch of games.

Kentucky beat an out-matched Auburn team, sure, but this time, Kentucky sealed the deal and finished the Auburn Tigers. And they did it without a key rotation player in Willie Cauley-Stein.

Three of the next four games for the Wildcats are on the road, and Kentucky should be favored to win all four are games.

But don't pencil in the Wildcats to win all four just yet. The Auburn game was a step in a positive direction, but so was the game at Louisville. 

If we have learned anything about these young Wildcats, it is that they are volatile. We do not know what Kentucky team we will see in the future.

Will Kentucky build on its impressive performance against Auburn?

Or will we see another Vanderbilt-like letdown?

We'll find out on Jan. 22 when Kentucky travels to Alabama.