LEXINGTON, Kentucky (Ticker) -- Behind Kelenna Azubuike's career night, Kentucky continued to make Auburn's trip here a nightmare.
Azubuike notched career highs with 30 points and 11 rebounds as the fifth-ranked Wildcats clinched a share of the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division title with an 81-73 victory over the Tigers.
"I wanted to be aggressive the whole game," Azubuike said. "I tried to get to the boards, go to the basket, and get fouled. I kept trying all of those things and it worked out tonight."
Azubuike finished 9-of-17 from the floor and went 9-of-11 at the free throw line.
The win was Kentucky's 41st in 43 games against Auburn in Lexington and the 20th in the last 21 meetings between the schools.
Despite Azubuike scoring 16 points on 6-of-10 shooting with three 3-pointers in the first half, Auburn (12-14, 3-10 SEC West) trailed just 36-32 at the break even though freshman guard Toney Douglas struggled. Douglas, who entered the game fifth in the conference in scoring at 16.9 points per game, went 0-of-4 from the field without a point in the opening 20 minutes.
Despite shooting 36 percent in the first half, the Tigers were able to stay in the contest behind a strong presence on the offensive glass. Overall, Auburn pulled down a season-high 21 offensive rebounds, leading to 20 second-chance points.
"We were around the ball," said Auburn coach Jeff Lebo about his team's rebounding. "The way we play, we shoot a lot of threes, obviously. We will rebound a missed three at a higher percentage than we will a missed two. It's hard to box us out sometimes because we're coming from the perimeter.
"It's a quickness thing when you miss a three trying to chase down a long rebound. Most of the time, we do have that advantage on people, especially at the big spots. There are just some awkward areas to have to box out and react to get balls. Twenty one offensive rebounds is a lot for us. That's a load, and 40 rebounds, in general, too. This game, (the rebounding) was pretty consistent."
After making 4-of-12 attempts from the arc in the first half, the Tigers connected on eight 3-pointers in the second half to finish 43 percent (12-of-28) from long range.
"We've had trouble defending the three and rebounding," Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said. "We've been outrebounded in five of the last six games. It's a little bit disappointing. With long rebounds, we tell our players you have to box out deeper. We did a good job challenging shots, but we kept flying by people and they would follow up and get offensive rebounds. You see a team get 21 offensive rebounds and you're not doing a very good job boxing out."
Douglas warmed up in the second half, hitting a 3-pointer to cut the Tigers' deficit to 45-44 with 14:32 remaining, but Azubuike responded with a jumper. The junior forward added a layup three minutes later to give the Wildcats (21-3, 12-1 East) a 56-51 cushion with 9:52 to play.
Azubuike converted 5-of-6 free throws in the final 68 seconds to seal Kentucky's 13th straight home win in conference play.
Chuck Hayes scored 13 points, Randolph Morris 12 and Ramel Bradley added 10 for the Wildcats, who shot 51 percent (26-of-51) and had 18 points from their reserves.
"I thought Ramel really stepped up," said Smith about his key bench contributor. "He made some big shots for us, some threes. Then he made his free throws, making two in a row there (in the final minute)." Douglas scored 21 points in the second half, shooting 7-of-15 from the floor with five 3-pointers for Auburn, which shot 36 percent (24-of-67) in its third straight loss.
"Toney, in the second half, finally got off of his tough little stretch and showed what he can do," Lebo said. "It's amazing what that ball going in the basket for an offensive player can do to your energy level. He was moving without the ball like a wild banshee in the first half and it didn't go in and, then it looked like he was in quicksand. He had 21 points on the road in this environment. He was awful good in the second half."
Nathan Watson scored 15 points and pulled down six of his eight boards on the offensive end for the Tigers. Quinnel Brown chipped in with nine rebounds, including four offensive, for Auburn, which dropped to 2-2 when outrebounding its opponent.