Bryce Brown and No. 14 Auburn did all they could, but came up just short in their comeback bid in an 82–80 loss to No. 12 Kentucky at home on Saturday.
It was a gutsy win for the young Wildcats, who led by as many as 17 in the second half before Brown spearheaded a Tigers rally. Brown, who had 25 of his 28 points in the second half, made 6 of 7 threes as part of an 8-for-9 day from the field.
Three different times down the stretch, a score by Brown cut Kentucky's lead to three, and a trey by Jared Harper cut it to one in the final 30 seconds. After two free throws by Tyler Herro, Auburn had a chance to win it in the waning seconds, but a layup off the glass by Harper somehow rimmed out and Samir Doughty's ensuing three-point heave fell short, securing the UK victory.
It was a huge win for the Wildcats, who went on the road to a hostile, packed environment and withstood multiple runs by a veteran Auburn team. Herro, a freshman who continues to grow, came up big late, scoring 10 of Kentucky's 14 points in final six minutes. He finished with 20 points on 6-of-12 shooting, while fellow freshman Keldon Johnson also added 20 on 7-of-11 shooting. Senior Reid Travis was his sturdy self down low, chipping in 17 points and seven rebounds to help the Wildcats win the battle in the paint, 38 to 24, and on the boards, 33 to 26.
For Auburn, the game was a representation of just how dependent it is on its three-point shooting. The Tigers came into the day shooting 36.7% from beyond the arc as a team and getting 40% of their points from there, which ranks 18th nationally. In the first half, Auburn shot 5-for-16 (31%) from three and trailed by eight after a late Kentucky run. Their second-half comeback was powered by a turnaround from the perimeter, with Brown and Co. hitting 8-of-14 (57%) and collecting 11 assists, almost doubling their six from the first half. The back-and-forth action down the stretch had the distinct feel of March and was a good measure of the competitiveness in the SEC this season.
With the win, the Wildcats improved to 4–1 in the conference and 14–3 overall, but Saturday was only the start of a tough stretch. Kentucky hosts Mississippi State next before welcoming Kansas to town in a week for the Big 12/SEC Challenge, then hits the road for trips to Vanderbilt and Florida. Auburn, meanwhile, has tricky road games at South Carolina and Mississippi State up next, with both the Tigers and Bulldogs sitting out this year's annual challenge.