The Auburn men's basketball team will shoot for the season sweep over Kentucky when they travel to Lexington for a rematch against the Wildcats on Saturday.
The Tigers will face a Kentucky team that is anything but typical and in no way resembles what is expected of a "blueblood" program — the Wildcats are currently 5-13 overall and 4-7 in conference play.
The Tigers were able to hold off Kentucky at home 66-59 in their first match-up in January. They will face a Wildcat team that enters the contest with a four-game losing streak.
The Tigers broke their own three-game losing skid on Tuesday, when they edged out Vanderbilt 73-67 on the road.
The Tigers were again led by true freshman point guard Sharife Cooper, who managed 19 points and seven assists in 28 minutes against the Commodores.
Having a point guard like Cooper to lead the team when the game is tight is a luxury, said Auburn coach Bruce Pearl.
"It is why you have got to have a great quarterback. Put it in their hands and let them make plays," he said.
Auburn also got a boost from junior guard Jamal Johnson, who nailed five of eight three-point attempts on his way to putting 19 points of his own on the board for the Tigers.
It marked a breakout of a shooting slump that has dogged the junior since the Tigers' first match-up vs. Kentucky on Jan. 16. After scoring in double figures for six straight games, Johnson averaged less than five points game before the 19-point explosion on Tuesday night. For the season, he's averaging 9.1 points a game.
"I think he has got to feel really good about his contribution. He’s got to feel really good about that," said Pearl. "We don’t win without him. We don’t beat Vanderbilt without him, period. So, it says a lot about his mental toughness and his confidence and playing within himself. I think the other thing too is Jamal didn’t have a turnover. So he did what he did, went to his strengths, stayed away from his weaknesses, played really good defense and made shots and didn’t try to do too much. As a result, he was really productive, he doesn’t have a turnover, and he is plus-15 or so for the game. It just translates."
Johnson said he got a little frustrated himself during his slump, but noted how big his support system is with his mom, dad, cousins, brothers, uncles and grandmother.
"They all did a great job keeping me supported and keeping me encouraged," said Johnson. "Coach Pearl did a great job and the staff and may teammates did a great job of keeping me encouraged, motivated and confident. My main thing is my family. I have a great support system. Everything goes out to them."
Johnson and Tigers will try to complete the sweep of the Wildcats at noon on Saturday. The game will be televised on CBS.