AUBURN, Ala. – The Auburn Tigers couldn't get the ball when they needed it most.
Tyrese Tanner scored 28 points but the Tigers weren't able to collect a couple of key rebounds in the closing seconds or get a final shot off in Sunday's 73-71 loss to No. 10 Kentucky.
"The opportunity was there," Auburn coach Terri Williams-Flournoy said. "We played hard. Sometimes we just didn't do everything that we needed to do, like rebounding the basketball on the defensive end.
"They got too many offensive possessions. At that point, you've got to box out and get that defensive rebound to even give yourselves a chance."
Jennifer O'Neill scored 16 points, Samarie Walker had 13 points and 10 rebounds and Kentucky (15-3, 3-2 Southeasern Conference) overcame a 13-point first-half deficit.
The Wildcats survived 13-of-29 shooting from the foul line to hold off the Tigers (11-7, 2-2).
"We had to make some big plays to get the victory," Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said. "To come on the road against a really good team that's motivated to win and plays hard, these are difficult games to win."
Meagan Tucker hit a jumper with 1:07 left to bring Auburn within two points. The Wildcats worked 20 seconds off the clock and then called timeout. O'Neill missed two 3-pointers in the final seconds, but Linnae Harper and Walker grabbed the offensive rebounds.
Walker missed two free throws with 6 seconds remaining. Tanner rebounded and threw it to Katie Frerking. O'Neill smothered her in the corner as she collected the ball and Auburn couldn't get a final shot off.
"No. 23 (Walker) tipped the ball while I was trying to dribble and I was trying to pass it up to Katie because I saw she was open," Tanner said. "But my pass was too high. I probably should have kept it. I saw her wide open, but it just didn't get there."
Harper also had 13 points and seven rebounds for the Wildcats. O'Neill made 4 of 11 3-pointers and had four assists and three steals. Leading scorer DeNesha Stallworth had five points in 14 minutes.
Auburn's No. 2 scorer, Hasina Muhammad, missed the game with an unspecified injury.
Tanner kept Auburn close with 17 points in the second half. She matched her career high in an SEC game.
"She put it on her shoulders and said, 'Come on, guys,'" Williams-Flournoy said. "And that is exactly what she did."
Tanner's sister, Tra'Cee, scored 15 points for Auburn before fouling out with 12:26 left. Brandy Montgomery added 10 points but was 5 of 14 shooting and had seven turnovers.
Kentucky had won last season's meeting 97-53, the most points ever scored against Auburn.
This time the Wildcats led by as many as nine midway through the second half after a sluggish start, but it still went down to the final moments.
They made just 8 of 19 free throws in the second half.
"We really failed to cash in at the free throw line, and that's been a real problem for us," Mitchell said. "And I can't explain it. We are good free throw shooters and we are just struggling there."
The Tigers held Kentucky to 17 points below its season average.
The Wildcats nearly wiped out the 13-point deficit before heading into halftime down 37-36. The Tigers built a 25-12 lead midway through the half but didn't make a field goal over the final 3:30.
The Wildcats missed their first eight shots before Bria Goss scored on a drive four minutes into the game. They wound up collecting 17 offensive rebounds, though.
"We just had to be very intense on defense and most importantly rebounding and boxing out," Harper said. "I think that was the key for this game, and that really helped us at the end."