AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — The Kentucky Wildcats seemed poised to take control against Auburn, as many would expect. Only it turned out the other way around.
The 14th-ranked Wildcats lost a 12-point lead in the second half Saturday and fell 75-70 to the Tigers, then were blunt in explaining what went wrong.
“We had people who didn’t want to play, and a couple of bad decisions on the offensive end,” guard Tyler Ulis said. “They didn’t play hard as a team.”
The result was the first loss to Auburn since 2000 for the Wildcats (13-4, 3-2 Southeastern Conference), who had won the past 18 meetings.
Kareem Canty scored 26 points, including two free throws with 20 seconds left, and Tyler Harris had 21 for the Tigers (8-8, 2-3). Students stormed the court to celebrate the upset.
“I didn’t want to be in the middle of it because I got killed, but I wanted to watch it and I wanted to see those guys enjoy themselves,” said Auburn coach Pearl, in his second season with a program that has been among the SEC’s worst.
Canty, a transfer from Marshall, had 21 second-half points. Harris is a graduate transfer from Providence who collected 11 rebounds and made two free throws in the final minute.
Kentucky’s Jamal Murray made a 3-pointer with 13 seconds left and Canty missed two free throws to give Kentucky hope.
Ulis, who scored 17 points, missed a 3-point attempt at the other end that would have kept Kentucky close. The 5-foot-9 Ulis had 10 rebounds and eight assists. Murray scored 20 points on 8-of-22 shooting.
It’s hardly panic time for Kentucky and coach John Calipari, as usual trying to nurture a young team through the season. He could still shake up the lineup some, saying he’s got “a couple of other guys no-showing us.”
“It’s January. We’re fine,” Calipari said. “I’m not worried about it. I just want to make some changes to see if guys will respond and fight. If you don’t deserve the minutes, let someone else play.”
Canty drove for a tying layup with 1:32 left and was fouled by Ulis. He came up favoring his right leg but hit the free throw to give Auburn the lead for good.
“Growing up where I come from, there’s two things you dream about, playing for Kentucky or Duke or having a chance to play against them,” said Canty, from Harlem in New York. “My whole family was watching. The whole world was watching.”
Harris rebounded a missed shot and hit two more from the free throw line with 34 seconds left to push it to 72-67. He then grabbed the ball after Ulis missed on a drive.
Harris rebounded in a big way from a 4-of-13 performance in an 18-point loss to Vanderbilt, apologizing to Pearl afterward.
“This is the reason why he came,” Pearl said, “and he delivered.”
Auburn had rallied from a 47-35 deficit with a 21-4 run punctuated by 3-pointers by Canty and the 6-foot-10 Harris, taking a 56-51 lead midway through the half. Harris made all three of his 3-point attempts.
Auburn, which has lost key guards Tahj Shamsid-Deen and T.J. Dunans to injuries, hit 12 3-pointers, five by Canty. The Tigers were 6 of 10 from beyond the arc in the second half to spearhead the comeback.
They had dropped 15 straight games against ranked opponents, since a win over No. 23 Mississippi State on Feb. 18, 2012.
Derek Willis added 12 points and 12 rebounds for Kentucky, which made 25 of 72 shots (34.7 percent).
The only other bench points for the Wildcats came from Skal Labissiere, who scored four points but also drew a technical foul.
“I thought we’d come out ready to play, but we didn’t,” Ulis said. “I’m very surprised. There’s no way we should have lost that game, and we did.”
Former Auburn coach Tony Barbee did not attend the game. The Kentucky assistant was recruiting Saturday, a Wildcats spokeswoman said. Auburn fired Barbee after he went 18-50 in SEC games over four seasons.
Auburn forward Cinmeon Bowers returned to the starting lineup after coming off the bench seven straight games. He had eight points and 10 rebounds.
Kentucky: Shot 11 of 35 in the second half and made 6 of 18 3-pointers for the game. … Outrebounded Auburn 48-38.
Auburn: Made 21 of 31 free throws and 12 of 26 3-point attempts.
Kentucky visits Arkansas on Thursday.
Auburn hosts Alabama on Tuesday.