Kentucky beats Auburn 73-64 for 4th straight win

Published 7:57 am Thursday, January 22, 2009

LEXINGTON, Ky. — A minor right hand injury suffered a couple of weeks ago makes it difficult for Kentucky center Patrick Patterson to get a good grip on the ball.

It hasn’t stopped Patterson and the Wildcats from getting a firm grasp on first-place in the Southeastern Conference.

Patterson scored 21 points and added a career-high 18 rebounds to break out of a mini-slump as Kentucky pulled away from Auburn 73-64 on Wednesday night. Jodie Meeks scored 32 points and Perry Stevenson had 13 points and 12 rebounds for the Wildcats (15-4, 4-0), who moved into first place in the SEC by themselves after No. 24 Florida and Mississippi State lost earlier on Wednesday.

“Those guys continue to amaze me,” said Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie of his two stars.

While not exactly ready to crown themselves as the SEC favorites, the way the Wildcats beat the Tigers (11-7, 1-3) for the 10th straight time — overcoming 22 turnovers and sometimes shaky defense over the first 30 minutes — Kentucky might not always have to play its best to win.

“We know how to play close games,” Meeks said. “We executed and our defense fed our offense. I was exhausted toward the end. I just wanted to do whatever I could do to win the game.”

DeWayne Reed led Auburn with 22 points and Rasheem Barrett added a career-high 17 for the Tigers, who were outscored 26-2 at the free-throw line.

“Their intensity in the second half certainly got us out of sync,” said Auburn coach Jeff Lebo. “They pressured us very hard and they have some great size on the perimeter and that really hurt us.”

Patterson played with the middle finger on his right hand wrapped heavily, but said he’s growing accustomed to the discomfort.

“I think about it on the court, it affects my shot sometimes,” Patterson said. “But it really didn’t bother me tonight. Coach said he just wanted me to rebound and play defense. It just swells up from being bumped and hit.”

Whatever was bothering him, Patterson got over it midway through the second half with the Wildcats trailing 51-48. Stevenson got a game-turning run going with a dunk, then Patterson followed with a nifty catch in the lane off a lob from Michael Porter, and hit a little hook shot while getting fouled. He made the free throw, then blocked Auburn’s Korvotney Barber at the other end.

Meeks was fouled while shooting a 3-pointer, and made all three free throws to put the Wildcats up 56-51. Meeks got free for a dunk on Kentucky’s next trip, and Patterson later added a short jumper in the lane to push Kentucky’s lead to 60-51 with 4:35 remaining.

The Tigers would get no closer than six the rest of the way.

“We proved what we can do when we play better defense,” Patterson said. “We came together. No one got down on themselves when we were down.”

Kentucky’s size took its toll on the Tigers. The Wildcats blocked seven shots, including four by Stevenson and held a 42-22 advantage on the boards.

“You can say all you want, you can game plan all you want,” Barrett said. “When they want to play, they play.”

Kentucky’s ability to get the ball inside to Patterson created plenty of mismatches, forcing the Tigers to foul.

“We talked about and worked on not fouling him when he got the ball and he still got to the line way too much,” Lebo said.

Meeks, playing his first home game since pouring in a school-record 54 points in a win over Tennessee last week, received a rousing ovation while being introduced. He got the crowd on its feet again moments later, hitting a 3-pointer one minute into the game. Over the last two weeks, that’s been enough to send the Wildcats off to the races.

The Tigers, however, were hardly impressed.

Auburn hung around the entire first half, thanks in part to the turnover-prone Wildcats.

Kentucky gave it away 13 times in the first half and needed a spectacular play by Patterson in the final seconds in the half to lead 34-33 at the break. Patterson blocked a shot attempt by Reed with 5 seconds left, then dribbled up the floor before hitting a streaking Ramon Harris for a layup at the horn.

“They are going to kill you when you make mistakes, and we made mistakes,” Barrett said.