UK's Nerlens Noel
AUBURN, Ala. -- Kentucky got another strong performance by sophomore forward Kyle Wiltjer and saw Nerlens Noel overcome foul trouble to stuff the stat sheet once again as the Wildcats, contrary to John Calipari's predictions, finally "whomped" an opponent.
AUBURN, Ala. -- Kentucky's John Calipari may be one of the nation's elite basketball coaches, but soothsayer he is not.
Just four days after declaring that his Wildcats were not capable of "whomping on people" and that every game moving forward would be a dogfight, Kentucky delivered one of its best all-around performances of the season in a 75-53 win at Auburn.
Sophomore forward Kyle Wiltjer scored 17 points for the second straight game to lead five Wildcats in double figures. Kentucky (12-5, 3-1 SEC) also got 12 points apiece from Ryan Harrow, Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin, and Nerlens Noel, despite being limited to 25 minutes due to first-half four trouble, once again flirted with a triple double in posting 10 points, nine rebounds and seven blocked shots.
The Wildcats held the more experienced Auburn squad to 35 percent shooting from the field, including an 0-for-15 night from behind the 3-point arc, and outrebounded the Tigers 43-30 despite Noel's issues and fellow big man Willie Cauley-Stein staying behind in Lexington after a minor knee procedure.
"We played pretty good as a team," a satisfied UK coach John Calipari said. "... I thought Nerlens played well, except for he got in foul trouble, and two of them were just dumb fouls. Alex played better. Archie was efficient. He was efficient. Ryan and Julius (Mays)... they all kind of did their thing. Jarrod (Polson) was good again.
"It was what we needed at this time. We need to start seeing the fruits of the labor, if you know what I'm saying. You gotta start having some hope that we're going to be fine."
Kentucky won its 14th consecutive game over Auburn, which dropped to 8-9 overall and 2-2 in SEC play. The Tigers have not beaten the Wildcats since the 1999-2000 season.
In doing so, UK had to shake off a bumpy start which saw the Wildcats miss 12 of their first 14 shots from the field. Auburn trailed only 10-9 at the 8:27 mark when Noel picked up his second personal foul and went to the bench for the remainder of the half. But the Tigers were not able to close the gap, instead watching UK extend its lead to 30-25 at the half with a late spurt that included seven straight points by Wiltjer.
Noel picked up his third foul only 13 seconds into the second half on a charging call, but again, Auburn struggled to take advantage. UK hit 10 of its first 14 shots to start the half and open a 53-37 advantage.
A 17-2 run helped the Cats take their largest lead of the night, 72-45, at the 3:41 mark. That spurt included back-to-back 3s by Mays and Wiltjer and five of Poythress' 12 points.
The Cats demonstrated the sustained effort and fighting spirit that Calipari has been yearning to see most of the season.
"You're defined by your effort, your fight, your competitive spirit, not wins and losses," the UK boss said. "So you get out of that mindset. It's more the process of getting your effort right, getting your battle, your fight and your sense of urgency right. That's what will define you as a player.
"Each individual player has to play like that for us to have success... And when you look at this, this was one of our better efforts, and it was an effort on the road.
"This shows that we're growing."
* UK now leads the series with Auburn 87-17 and 29-13 in Auburn, Ala. The Cats have won 28 of the last 29 meetings.
* UK improved to 71-1 under Calipari when holding an opponent to 63 or fewer points.
* Noel has three or more blocked shots in five consecutive games. Polson, meanwhile, recorded his first career rejection.
* Harrow has recorded double-figure points in eight consecutive games.
* Wiltjer matched a career high with five assists.
* The Cats head back to Alabama on Tuesday to face the Crimson Tide in a 9 p.m. ET tipoff.