By LARRY VAUGHT
LEXINGTON — Kentucky coach John Calipari has been waiting for freshman Wenyan Gabriel to become more of a factor.
Saturday against Auburn, Gabriel did.
He hit two 3-pointers in the first half to help jump start the UK offense but his energy stats were even better. Four minutes into the second half he already had eight rebounds, two blocked shots and a steal. Plus, he drew charges on back to back possessions.
He finished the game with a career-high 16 rebounds, including five offensive boards. He did go just 2-for-8 from the field and 0-for-4 at the foul line, but his rebounding was a needed boost for UK.
Kentucky led most of the way but the pesky Tigers didn’t go down 92-72 without a fight. Auburn shot 50 percent from the field in the first half and yet still trailed 51-39.
Kentucky got out to a 14-point lead early in the second half before the Tigers surged back to make it 60-56. Isaiah Briscoe answered with a 3-pointer and then hit a drive inside for a 65-56 lead at 11:30. He later added another goal for a 70-59 lead but then picked up his fourth foul with 9:20 to go.
When Auburn got within 70-64 with eight minutes to play, Kentucky coach John Calipari had both De’Aaron Fox and Briscoe on the court with four fouls. However, it was Monk — who had taken just one shot in the second half — that knocked down a 3-pointer to put the lead back to 73-64 with 7:23 to go. But four seconds later Fox fouled out with 13 points, five assists and four rebounds.
Monk ignited the Rupp Arena crowd when he led a fast break and dished the ball back to Dominique Hawkins for a dunk and 75-65 lead. He wasn’t finished. He put in two free throws and threw down a thunderous dunk of his own for an 81-68 lead — and his 10th 20-point game of the season.
He finished with 24 points, six assists and one block in 36 minutes. He was 8-for-13 from the field, including 4-for-8 from 3-point range and 4-for-4 at the foul line.
Adebayo had 15 points, eight rebounds and three blocks. Briscoe finished with 10 points, five assists, three rebounds and one steals. He also had four turnovers and Adebayo had three.
Mychal Mulder came off the bench for what coach John Calipari said was his “best game.” He had 12 points, two assists and one rebounds in 15 minutes. He was 5-for-5 at the foul line.
After going 1-for-9 from 3-point range at Vandy, UK went 11-for-19. However, Calipari noted UK negated most of that with a 17-for-32 effort at the foul line. Take out Monk and Mulder and the other Cats were 8-for-23 at the stripe.