LOUISVILLE, KY. (WDRB) -- Sometimes, you just need to whomp somebody.
I don't know if Saturday night's 75-53 beatdown of Auburn will cure any of the University of Kentucky basketball team's recent ills. But there's no question, it was much-needed medicine.
If nothing else, you saw something that has been in short supply in recent weeks among these Wildcats -- smiles. After some tense weeks, Camp Cal, the Louisville loss, the Texas A&M OMG, hand-wringing and second-guessing, this team needed what happened in Saturday night at Auburn.
UK coach John Calipari had said he hoped his team could go down and "steal" a win. This could be described more as an assault.
Now, nobody will confuse Auburn with a good basketball team. The Tigers went 0-for-15 from three-point range, many of them makeable. They were bad. Doesn't matter.
For UK's players, this game served the same purpose as Crash Davis turning on the sprinklers the night before the road game in "Bull Durham." It wasn't exactly a night off -- but it was a night away from the stress and grind of trying to be the defending national champions, not to mention a night away from the palpable apprehension that comes with some games in Rupp Arena when the home team isn't rolling.
At Auburn, they'd been lying in wait. It was an Orange-out. It was a sellout. Charles Barkley was in the house. It was the one day of the year that Auburn cares passionately about basketball.
It didn't look like either team cared about scoring in the early going. UK opened the game 2 of 14. Auburn made just 3 of 20. The only things taking a whomping was the rims.
But once UK got going, it kept going. On his postgame radio show, Calipari noted, "We were here (ahead double digits) at Vanderbilt and nearly lost the game. So it's progress."
The greatest progress Saturday night was by Wiltjer. With Willie Cauley-Stein out of the lineup after a knee procedure, Wiltjer was used to flash into the high post and did his best job of the season distributing the ball. He dished out five assists and grabbed four rebounds to go with 17 points. And Calipari was most pleased with those first two numbers, not the third.
"We just said we're going to get it to the middle and let (Wiltjer) make plays and he did," Calipari said. "And he's also coming up with rebounds. So now it's fine, even if he misses a shot you leave him in. . . . There's no tentativeness to his game."
Instead of getting a double-digit lead and letting the opponent back in, as they did at Vandy, UK's players used Calipari's pregame remarks about not being the type of teams to blow people away by 20 as motivation once they got a lead.
"We just kind of huddled together and said we need to start burying teams," Wiltjer said.
UK buried Auburn so badly that television viewers were treated to a five-minute monologue by Sir Charles in the second half, in which he said, among other things: "John Calipari is a friend of mine. There ain't one player on this Kentucky team that should go pro early."
Potential No. 1 pick Nerlens Noel might beg to differ. He delivered his usual across-the-board production, and flirted with a triple-double: 10 points, 9 rebounds and 7 blocks.
Alex Poythress, Ryan Harrow and Archie Goodwin each had 12 points.
And they had fun doing it.
Auburn, on its big night, did not. They failed to make a three for the first time in 15 years. They couldn't have thrown it into a pair of Charles Barkley's pre-Weight Watchers pants.
What this means for the Wildcats is a big unknown. Might mean nothing. Or, it might mean a team that was clearly laboring under the Big Blue burden might feel a bit lighter and have their sense of fun in the game rekindled.
Whatever it means, it can't hurt.
The Associated Press contributed to this story. Copyright 2012 WDRB News. All Rights Reserved.
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