That 80-53 loss in Lexington in late February might have been the best thing to happen to the Tigers. They haven't lost since.
The Tigers since then have two victories against Tennessee and one against Kansas and North Carolina. Their 97-80 Sweet 16 win over the Tar Heels on Friday night sent the Tigers, the No. 5 seed in the Midwest Region, to their third meeting of the season with Kentucky, with the stakes in this one higher than in the previous two.
The winner will advance to the Final Four, which would be a first for Auburn.
Auburn will take the longest winning streak in Division I (11 games) into Sunday's Elite Eight contest.
"They physically overwhelmed us in Lexington,'' Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said, referring to a loss in which PJ Washington had a game-high 24 points and Keldon Johnson ripped down 17 boards. "We actually went into that game playing pretty well, and we got manhandled.
"The lesson there was we didn't [let the loss linger] because we respect Kentucky so much and we recognize they had a great night. These guys weren't destroyed. Kentucky really beat us. We didn't play great, but we got it handed to us because they played so well.''
Kentucky also beat the Tigers 82-80 at Auburn in January.
"We know they're the [real] deal,'' Kentucky coach John Calipari said. "We were lucky to win down there. They missed a layup. We played pretty good and they missed some shots they normally make at our place, which led us to a pretty good win.
"We respect them. We respect their players and what they do and how they play and how hard they play. We're a little different than them. They're going to take 35, 40 3s. That's what they do. We're not going to shoot that many, but we'll take them if they're there.''
Auburn had one of its worst shooting performances of the season the last time out against Kentucky. Auburn made just 30 percent of its 3-point shots and 33 percent from the floor overall.
That hasn't been an issue for the Tigers of late, however. They made 46 percent (17-of-37) from beyond the arc against North Carolina, after making 43 percent (13-of-30) in their 89-75 win over Kansas in the previous round.
But Pearl said he doesn't expect the Tigers to score with the same efficiency against Kentucky. Auburn will also be without sophomore forward Chuma Okeke, who tore the ACL in his left knee in the Tigers' Sweet 16 win.
"Coach Cal does a phenomenal job with his defense,'' Pearl said. "I don't think we'll get near 97 or near 80.''