Freshman John Wall has been the guard getting most of the attention for Kentucky during the team’s unbeaten start, but the second-ranked Wildcats’ latest victory proved they have another strong option in their backcourt.
Coming off the most productive performance of his collegiate career, freshman Eric Bledsoe will try for an encore Saturday as visiting Kentucky looks to beat struggling Auburn for an 11th straight time.
Wall, a presumptive top pick in this summer’s NBA draft if he chooses to leave school, has averaged 17.3 points and 7.1 assists during the Wildcats’ best start since they were 23-0 during the 1965-66 season.
While Wall had 19 points as Kentucky (17-0, 2-0 SEC) won 89-77 at Florida on Tuesday night, Bledsoe stole the show by scoring a game-high 25 on 10-of-13 shooting from the field, also adding seven rebounds and five assists.
It was the fourth straight game Bledsoe has scored in double figures.
“Big plus to Eric,” Wall said. “He stepped up big time for us. Every time I drove, they weren’t leaving me. They were leaving him open, and he was making shots.”
Although Kentucky continues to receive minimal contributions from its reserves, ranking among the bottom 20 percent nationally with 15.1 bench points per game, Bledsoe’s emergence could give the team another scoring threat along with the powerful trio of Wall and big men Patrick Patterson and DeMarcus Cousins.
Patterson, a junior, and the freshman Cousins are combining to average 31.9 points and 17.3 rebounds as Kentucky - in its first season under coach John Calipari - remains one of two undefeated teams nationally along with top-ranked Texas.
Florida coach Billy Donovan called the less-heralded Bledsoe “as good as any point guard in the country” after he helped the Wildcats close the game on a 17-5 run to slam the door on the Gators and win their SEC road opener.
“It was real big,” Patterson said of the game-ending burst. “It shows our maturity level, it shows how far we’ve come. We’re a tough team, we have a will to win and we want to battle.”
Auburn (9-8, 0-2) figures to present a lesser challenge after the Tigers lost 81-55 at ninth-ranked Tennessee on Thursday night. After hanging within a point of the Volunteers at halftime, Auburn was outscored 43-18 in the second half.
Guards accounted for all but 12 of the Tigers’ points, and Auburn was outscored 48-12 in the paint. That doesn’t bode well for the team’s inside matchup with Patterson and Cousins.
“We got nothing from our inside game, I mean zero,” coach Jeff Lebo said. “We were kind of forced at that point to go out on the perimeter, and we shot the ball so poorly in the second half.”
The Tigers went 10-6 in conference play last season, but they dropped their SEC opener 80-71 at home to South Carolina last Saturday.
They’ve lost their last 10 meetings with Kentucky since a 66-63 home win Jan. 11, 2000.
In two career matchups with Auburn, Patterson is averaging 20.0 points and 13.0 rebounds while shooting 15 of 23 (65.2 percent) from the field. The Tigers’ leading scorer, senior guard DeWayne Reed, has been held to 10.0 points per game and 33.4 percent shooting (11 of 34) in three games against the Wildcats.