Bruce Pearl landed the biggest win of his Auburn tenure on Saturday night as his injury-depleted, 7-8 Tigers team knocked off No. 14 Kentucky in Auburn Arena, 75-70.
The Auburn crowd flooded the floor after the win, a storm that will cost the athletic department $50,000, but after knocking off his former arch-nemesis, John Calipari, I have a feeling that Bruce Pearl would gladly sign that check himself.
Kareem Canty led the way for the Tigers with 26 points and four assists despite spraining his ankle in the second half, and Providence transfer Tyler Harris chipped in with 21 points and 11 boards. Cinmeon Bowers didn’t play all that well but his size and physicality created all kinds of problems for a Kentucky front line that has proven to be anything but consistent this season.
And that’s where Kentucky’s issues truly lie this season.
Look, let’s call it like it is: Skal Labissiere is never going to be the kid that we were hoping he’d be this season. That ship has sailed. On Saturday, he finished with four points, two boards and three fouls in just eight minutes. His confidence is shot. Calipari’s confidence in him is shot. This isn’t a situation that is going to fix itself this year, and the issue is that so much of the hype Kentucky had entering this season was built around the idea that Labissiere was going to be awesome.
And he may very well still be awesome in the long run.
But the odds of it happening while he’s still in Lexington are slim, and the issue is that behind him, there really isn’t much waiting in line in their front court. Marcus Lee and Alex Poythress are still in school for a reason: they’re nothing more than serviceable forwards. Would they be a perfect fours alongside Labissiere if he played like, say, Karl Towns? Yeah, they would, but neither of them are going to consistently be effective as the featured big man. They combined for nine points and seven boards on Saturday.
That’s why Kentucky right now looks like a team destined to get an eight seed and lose in the first weekend of the NCAA tournament as opposed to an SEC title contender and a potential Final Four team.
Kentucky is still going to be able to win some games on the nights where their guards play out of their minds, like they did against Duke and like Tyler Ulis did against Louisville. But when Ulis, Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe combine to shoot 16-for-51 from the floor, the Wildcats are going to be in danger every single night.