Kentucky basketball: Green continues hot shooting as Wildcats tame Auburn

Kentucky Wildcats Blair Green Credit: Sam Upshaw Jr.-USA TODAY Sports
Kentucky Wildcats Blair Green Credit: Sam Upshaw Jr.-USA TODAY Sports /

76. 528. 71. 525. Final

Blair Green leads four players in double figures as Kentucky basketball edges Auburn.

When the Kentucky basketball team tangles with the Auburn women it always seems to be an edge-of-your-seat finish. Wednesday was no exception as the No. 12 ranked Wildcats held off host Auburn 76-71.

Kentucky has won 13 of the last 14 matchups with the Tigers, but like Thursday’s tussle they had to fight off a 20 point rally from Auburn last year in Lexington.

Blair Green finished with a game-high 18 points on 7 of 9 field goal shooting (2 of 3 threes) and was perfect on both foul shots. Those happened to come with just 23 seconds to play.

The Harlan County standout in the past two games has connected on 14 of 19 field goals, and  6 of 8 three-pointers for a combined 40 points in wins over Vanderbilt and Auburn.

Green was asked in the post-game media conference about what has been working that has led to the sudden outburst in the last two outings.

"“Just definitely getting in the gym and getting extra shots to gain confidence. I know that I am very proud of me and the other guards and post players for staying after practice and getting there early before practice to work and make sure we get to make those shots more consistently."

It was also the return of Rhyne Howard who missed the Vandy game with an ankle injury. It was a slow start for Howard who also was in foul trouble much of the game.

But the junior dropped in a pair of free throws with 14 seconds remaining for Kentucky’s final points and enough to seal the win. She finished with 14 points, five rebounds, four assists, two steals, and a block.

Wildcat coach Kyra Elzy said postgame to the SEC Network that she was glad to have Howard back because she brings so much to the team in so many different ways but the team needed everyone.

"It’s a great win like any win in the SEC on the road is a good one. It’s great to have Rhyne Howard back on the floor who gives us the composure we need with passing on a night when she is struggling scoring. We preach to the team basketball not to take a good shot but a great shot. Big-time players step up in big-time situations and Blair Green really stepped up and hit big shots down the stretch when we needed them."

However, what makes this Kentucky team the most dangerous is the balanced scoring it gets game in and game out. All nine Wildcat players that saw action also contributed points and at least one rebound.

Robyn Benton, who transferred from Auburn to Kentucky last spring added 10 points as did Dre’Una Edwards. Edwards also grabbed five boards.

KeKe McKinney pulled down eight rebounds to lead the Cats to go with her five points.

Three-point shooting proved to be one of the deciding factors as Kentucky made 10 of 28 (35.7 percent) while Auburn hit just 5 of 19 (26.3 percent).

Green is the cool and confident one on the court and always get things in gear for her team. She opened the third period swishing a three that gave her team a 43-32 lead. That advantage would grow to as much as 14, but the Tigers kept clawing back.

Green was asked how her game has evolved more in the paint area by taking fadeaway jumpers to complement her long-range shots.

"“There has been a lot of zone played against us the past two games especially.  A lot of my game coming from high school was really being smart and moving a lot on the offensive end. So I just have tried to play more like I always do and just move more."

Each time it was a different Wildcat keeping the Tiger offense in check with a big stop, rebound, or point. Auburn would go on runs of 10-2 and 7-1 late in the closing to minutes to get within 72-67 when Kentucky was whistled for a 10-second violation.

Elzy called a timeout to settle her team and turned up the heat with a 2-3 zone defense that resulted in a pair of Auburn misses and the Wildcats made good at the foul line to close it out.

The game capped off the “We Back Pat” week of games that honored the late great Tennesse coach Pat Summitt who passed away in 2016. The Hall-of-Fame coach and her Pat Summitt Foundation work to support those battling Alzheimers.

Elzy who played at Oldham County high school and then was recruited by and played for Summitt at Tennessee from 1996-2001 was asked on the SEC Network postgame show what Summitt and the game meant to her.

"“This week means so much. We love coach Summitt and I’m sad she is gone but she would be so proud of SEC and the cause to end Alzheimer’s. Coach P we love you forever.”"

This women’s team could lend a few shooting tips to the men as they knocked down 28 of 59 shots and 10 of 28 from long range. Kentucky led all but 1:52 in the game and dished out 20 assists led by Jazmine Massengill with seven off the bench.

The Cats will battle with No. 25 Tennessee on Sunday in another SEC game with tipoff at 2 pm on ESPN2.