Auburn has slain another giant. And this time it punched the program’s first ticket to the Final Four.
Two days after stunning top-seeded North Carolina in the Sweet 16, the Tigers toppled No. 2 seed Kentucky Sunday as their best player watched from the sideline in a wheelchair with a torn ACL.
Auburn wins as star watches from wheelchair
Auburn came into the game at a significant disadvantage, down its best player in NBA prospect Okeke, who suffered a torn left ACL in the second half of Friday’s win over North Carolina.
Where many expected a blowout thanks to the Okeke injury, the Tigers had other ideas. Kentucky started hot, opening a 22-13 lead in what looked like the start of the lopsided result predicted.
But as they did against the Tar Heels, the Tigers rallied in the first half to keep the game manageable with a 35-30 deficit. Also like they did against the Tar Heels, they caught fire to open the second half and went on a tear to take the lead.
Brown’s 3-pointer at the 17:47 mark of the second half capped a 10-0 Auburn run to take a 40-37 lead that ensured the Wildcats were in for a battle.
A battle it was as Brown and Kentucky star PJ Washington traded blows down the stretch before Auburn had a chance to win in regulation with a final shot. But Horace Spencer’s contested 3-pointer missed the mark, sending the game into the extra session tied at 60-60.
Overtime belonged to Auburn. The Tigers opened up their biggest lead of the game at 68-62 and fended of the Wildcats from there to make program history.
Brown finished with 24 points while hitting 4-of-7 3-pointers as Harper tallied 26 points, five assists, four rebounds and three steals while hitting all 11 of his free throws.
For Kentucky, it’s a sudden end to a season that started with championship aspirations. Washington had a huge game in his second game back from a foot sprain, posting 28 points and 13 rebounds.
But it wasn’t enough as the sophomore Kentucky star will now have to switch gears to a decision on the NBA draft, having possibly played his last game for the Wildcats.
The loss marks the first time a John Calipari team has lost an NCAA tournament game it led at halftime, ending a 37-game streak that will leave him tied with UCLA legend John Wooden.
Another tough test awaits Tigers
The Tigers advance to take on No. 1 seed Virginia in the Final Four with a chance to further their already historic season. Again, they’ll enter the game with questions about their chances as Okeke is obviously not returning to the lineup.
But they weren’t supposed to beat Kentucky on Sunday. Virginia should know by now it will be in for a fight.
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