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  • Writer's pictureKevin Scarbinsky

I spy with my laser eyes AU > UK

First things first. If you're not first, you're not Auburn. Come Monday, if the best team in the country isn't the officially official No. 1 team in college basketball for the first time in school history, someone should audit the ballots. Someone reputable because it should be a landslide, an avalanche to rival the number of TP rolls and Twitter bombs bursting in air after the New Bloods did what they usually do to the Blue Bloods in the Loveliest Jungle on the Plains.

This week, it should be impossible for anyone to reject the evidence of their eyes and ears after seeing and hearing what occurred before, during and after No. 2 Auburn 80, No. 12 Kentucky 71. The revelation isn't that this just happened. It's that it keeps happening.

Auburn coach Bruce Pearl's postgame assessment was as telling as his team's in-game about-face from a 10-point first-half deficit to a nine-point final cushion. With something less than their best performance, his Tigers put down their best opponent to date.

"We did what we were supposed to do," the mayor of Pearlville declared. "There wasn't a lot of water splashing around the locker room. We didn't win a championship. We're not cutting down nets."

That's not false modesty, humility or bravado. Why would they? For the same reason the students didn't storm the floor, instead embracing the players in the stands to celebrate together per usual. This was a big game, of course, but they fully expect to earn larger opportunities down the road to the Final Four. Don't be shocked if the largest occurs on Monday April 4th in New Orleans.

That's the date and site of the national championship game, just so you know.

More perspective, please. This wasn't the biggest win of the Pearl era, not by a Wendell Green Jr. 3-point dagger. It wasn't even the biggest win over Kentucky in the last three years. That peak took place in the 2019 Elite Eight, when Auburn outlasted the Wildcats to reach the first Final Four in program history.

Kentucky fans will tell you, if they haven't already, that things would've been different Saturday had both members of UK's truly talented backcourt not suffered different injuries that limited Sahvir Wheeler's minutes and ended TyTy Washington's day early.

My, my. The 'Cats did grab an early upper hand and fought to the finish after the Tigers took control, but you know the college basketball world has changed when Auburn beats Kentucky for the fifth time in their last six meetings in Auburn Arena and reduces Big Blue Nation to woulda coulda shouldas.

Is it possible Kentucky would've pulled the upset with a fully healthy Wheeler and Washington? Yes. That's a dynamic duo at the head of the snake, but Auburn has one, too, along with a superior front line. It's also possible that Auburn wouldn't have needed overtime to KO UK in that 2019 regional final had Chuma Okeke's NCAA Tournament star turn not ended with a knee injury in a Sweet 16 rout of North Carolina.

Auburn's rude new habit of staring traditional powers right in the face with those laser eyes until they melt didn't commence when the Jungle broke camp Saturday morning. It simply continued with contributions from all corners of Pearl's deep and diverse "It Takes a Village" roster. Walker Kessler setting stone-cold screens and swatting or dunking everything in sight. Jabari Smith doing No. 1 overall draft pick things. K.D. Johnson taking everything up a notch in the second half. Allen Flanigan, Jaylin Williams, etc., etc., etc.

As the savagely creative and still undefeated #AuburnTwitter meme machine informed the Bluegrass into the night, "You weren't special. You were just next."

It's true that Kentucky was merely Auburn's 15th consecutive victim, its 18th overall in 19 starts. UK is the best team Auburn has beaten, but that observation pales next to a larger truth. Kentucky's historical superiority to Auburn in the sport of men's basketball ended six years ago on Jan. 16, 2016.

Before that day, the all-time record stood at Kentucky 91, Auburn 17. On that day, Kareem Canty dropped 26 points as Pearl's second Auburn team ended UK's 18-game, 15-year winning streak in the series.

Since that day, Canty's heroics included, they've played 11 times. It's now Advantage, Auburn 6-5.

There was a time when beating Kentucky meant everything to Auburn, but when you're the best team in the country and they're not, when you're the last team from the SEC to reach the Final Four and they're not, when you're the SEC team most likely to win it all and they're not, it means something else. It just means more because it means less. Day won. Job done. Who's got next?

I didn't meme it, but Auburn did after K.D. Johnson and company stared down Kentucky 80-71. (@AuburnMBB photo)


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