Originally created 01/20/99

Auburn-Kentucky an unexpected showdown



LEXINGTON, Ky. -- In many years, Kentucky would have every reason to be confident going into Wednesday night's game against Auburn.

This year, though the sixth-ranked Tigers are off to a 17-0 start, while the No. 7 Wildcats look vulnerable, having lost three of their last eight games.

Led by junior college transfer Chris Porter, who is averaging 16.8 points and 8.7 rebounds, Auburn has breezed, winning all but one of its games by double-digit margins.

The defending national champions, on the other hand, have struggled in recent weeks, losing back-to-back games to Duke and Louisville in December, then losing at home last week to Tennessee and struggling to a 63-57 win at Mississippi on Saturday.

Kentucky coach Tubby Smith sounded envious Tuesday as he talked about the Tigers, who are among the nation's statistical leaders in both scoring offense and scoring defense.

"They're very athletic. They're playing so well together as a team," Smith said. "When you're playing with that confidence, it's tough to beat anybody."

Auburn has benefited from the stability of having had Porter, Bryant Smith, Mamadou N'diaye, Scott Pohlman and Doc Robinson start every game. The Wildcats, on the other hand, have routinely juggled lineups as Smith has searched for the right combination.

"We don't have that consistency yet," Smith said.

Despite not having won at Rupp Arena since 1988, Auburn coach Cliff Ellis did not expect his team to be intimidated.

"I think they're as prepared as they possibly can be," Ellis said. "Kentucky's a great team, but I think we're a good team too."

Auburn (5-0 Southeastern Conference) may have snuck up on some early opponents, but their 17-0 record means the Tigers are no longer a surprise, said Ellis, who will be coaching his 700th Division I game.

"Every game is going to be a war," he said. "In this position you're going to get everybody's best shot."

Kentucky (15-4, 4-1 SEC) may play without center Jamaal Magloire, who Smith said will be suspended for patting the underside of a Mississippi player's chin during Saturday's game.

Magloire received a tehcnical foul and was benched by Smith for the last 16 minutes of the Mississippi game, but said afterward that he thought the incident had fired up his teammates. Smith disagreed and said Tuesday that Magloire would be punished further, though he refused to give any details or say whether Magloire would miss the Auburn game.

"Jamaal knows he was wrong," Smith said. "There's no place for that type of conduct."

In December, when Maryland came to Rupp with an undefeated record and a No. 2 ranking, it was Magloire who guaranteed a victory for the then-No. 5 Wildcats, who won 103-91.

Magloire was unable to provide an encore on Tuesday, as Smith kept him from speaking with reporters.

Other Kentucky players emphasized the need for improved shooting and overall play against Auburn.

"We've been a little up-and-down, a little more up-and-down than we want to be," Michael Bradley said. "It's not like we have major problems, but we need to put a team away from start to finish."

Scott Padgett said the Wildcats have failed to take advantage of scoring opportunities.

"We need to start getting out in transition," he said, pointing out that the Wildcats had only two baskets off fast breaks in the loss to Tennessee. "That's not Kentucky basketball," he said.

Auburn's 17-0 start is the Tigers' best since a 19-0 beginning in 1958-59. That streak ended on Feb. 21, 1959, at Lexington's Memorial Coliseum, where the No. 2 Tigers lost 75-56 to the third-ranked Wildcats.