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Football season is over, but Auburn basketball coach Bruce Pearl had a hard time turning the page when referencing his own clutch performer.
"It's why you've got to have a great quarterback," Pearl said, referring to freshman guard Sharife Cooper. "Put it in their hands and, you know, let 'em make plays."
Cooper came through when it counted most again for the Tigers, scoring 18 of his 19 points in the second half of a 73-67 win over Vanderbilt on Tuesday.
Auburn (11-10, 5-7 SEC) snapped a three-game losing streak thanks to Cooper. The Tigers will look to build off their momentum when they travel to play Kentucky on Saturday afternoon at Lexington.
Cooper, who is being projected as a possible first-round NBA draft pick this summer, accounted for 15 of Auburn's 24 points over the final seven minutes against Vanderbilt and recorded seven assists without a turnover.
Cooper is averaging a team-high 20.2 points, 8.7 assists as well as 4.2 rebounds per game.
Kentucky (5-13, 4-7) is looking to snap a four-game losing streak of its own during what has been a historically bad season for one of college basketball's most successful programs. The Wildcats have lost seven of their past eight, with their last victory coming on Jan. 23 against LSU.
Auburn won the first meeting against Kentucky 66-59 at home on Jan. 16.
Cooper had 11 points and eight assists in that game. Auburn's Allen Flanigan led the way with 21 points while going 8 of 8 from the free-throw line, while collecting nine rebounds.
Flanigan is averaging 13.9 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game while shooting 46.5 percent from the field and 35.4 percent from 3-point range.
Kentucky coach John Calipari found a positive in his team's most recent loss - a frustrating 81-80 home defeat against Arkansas on Tuesday.
The Wildcats made 14 of 26 from 3-point range, the most 3-pointers they have made in a single game since March 2012.
"Finally, guys threw daggers," Calipari said. "That's the best we've finished a game. So I can't be upset."
The Wildcats took a one-point lead when Davion Mintz hit a 3-pointer. But Arkansas prevailed after Jalen Tate drew a foul from Jacob Toppin and hit two free throws with 4.3 seconds left.
Mintz and Toppin led the Wildcats with 11 and nine points, respectively, the last time they faced Auburn. After a slow start to the season, Brandon Boston leads Kentucky with 11.9 points, while adding 5.3 rebounds per game.
"We can't worry about the losses," Boston said. "We just have to keep working hard every day."
--Field Level Media