KANSAS CITY, Mo. (WDRB) -- Until Sunday, the only coach who had taken Auburn to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament was Sonny Smith, the guy who discovered Charles Barkley.
Smith is 80 but understands basketball, especially Auburn basketball. I asked him if Auburn had much of an opportunity to compete against Kentucky, considering the Tigers had already lost to the Wildcats twice and they were without Chuma Okeke, their best inside player.
“Sure,” Smith said, with a laugh. “If they make a ton of threes.”
What qualified as a ton?
On Sunday, only seven qualified. The Tigers made fewer perimeter shots than their average but rode a combined 50 points from guards Jared Harper and Bryce Brown to upset Kentucky, 77-71, in overtime at the Sprint Center.
What hurt Kentucky more than Auburn's three-point shooting was the Wildcats' strange reliance on three-point shooting. They took 21 and made only five.
After making at least a dozen shots from distance in their last eight games, the Tigers struggled early, missing their first four and eight of their first nine.
But Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl loves the three more than the Golden State Warriors love the three, so the Tigers kept firing. And firing. And firing.
When Kentucky sprinted to a 17-7, Auburn got zero early points from guards Brown and Harper, their leading scorers, guys who combine for 31 points per game.
Brown and Harper figured it out, using their speed and agility to attack Kentucky from every angle. Brown and Harper are veteran guys and they played like it.
PJ Washington played another splendid game for Kentucky. He moved better than he moved Friday night against Houston, which was Washington’s first game back after he missed the Wildcats’ opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament with a sprained left foot.
Washington was stronger on the glass as well as around the rim. After grabbing only one rebound against Houston, Washington contributed 13 rebounds and 28 points.
Kentucky’s freshman guards played like freshmen. Hagans, Tyler Herro and Immanuel Quickley combined to miss 17 of 25 shots, including 12 of 15 from distance. Kentucky had to overcome a shaky game from Hagans, the Wildcats’ freshman point guard, who had seven turnovers and only three assists.
Auburn advances to Minneapolis for an NCAA Final Four semifinal game against Virginia on Saturday. The other semifinal will match Texas Tech against Duke or Michigan State.
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