Auburn is riding an 11-game win streak. The loss that precipitated it all: the Tigers’ worst of the season, an 80-53 drubbing at the hands of Kentucky about a month ago. Kentucky also took the first SEC meeting 82-80 in January. Auburn is the farthest it’s ever been in the tournament, matching a 1986 run. But Kentucky is eyeing its ninth championship.
Matchup to watch: Kentucky’s staunch defense against Auburn’s high-scoring offense. Kentucky usually limits opponents to around 65 points per game. Auburn usually scores around 80. Previously this season, the Wildcats have stifled the Tigers’ shooting. But Auburn has been red-hot recently, including shooting 55 percent from the field and 46 percent from the arc in the Sweet 16.
X-factor: The underdog mentality — Auburn’s Bryce Brown said his team functions best when doubts abound. But losing Chuma Okeke to a left knee injury Friday while Kentucky enjoyed the comeback of its injured star P.J. Washington could be too much to overcome.
Coach vs. Coach: In a battle between Kentucky’s John Calipari and Auburn’s Bruce Pearl, the winner is pretty obvious. Calipari is one of the most successful college basketball coaches, especially in the past 10 years. And while Pearl has led his team out of controversy, he now faces rallying a squad that just lost one of its top players at a pivotal time. And Calipari is Calipari.
Records: Auburn 29-9, Kentucky 30-6
Kentucky 78, Auburn 67. With Washington back and Auburn without Okeke, the Wildcats will get to their 18th Final Four.