On a night when Dick Vitale (shoutout to the legend) was being recognized by the Sports Emmy’s for a Lifetime Achievement award, it seemed fitting that a monumental game in SEC play would be the spotlight of the night.
John Calipari’s team entered the game having won four straight games against ranked opponents and could easily have been distracted by the looming matchup against #1 Tennessee this weekend. However, if they wanted to gain sole possession of second place in the SEC, with an opportunity to take first from the Vols, they had to surpass LSU.
Entering the night, LSU have had their last three games decided by a combined 10 points, so if a dog fight is what it was going to take, they were ready. That is absolutely what it would take against an undefeated at home Kentucky team, riding a 10-game win streak.
The game started out very even, both teams exchanging buckets back and forth.
The two key players in the game were expected to be PJ Washington for Big Blue and sophomore guard Tremont Waters for the Tigers. By all comparison to previous production, they had humble starts on the night. Going into the break, Kentucky lead by eight, with Washington contributing six points from the field, while Waters had a single three.
In the second half, contributions from freshman Naz Reid allowed LSU to chip at Kentucky’s lead. Obviously, these opportunities were not the only thing that closed the lead. While Washington found more success in the post offensively, his teammates were not as successful and LSU was eager to grab boards.
After a Tyler Herro three with 4:44 remaining, the game was tied at 62. In a series that was replicable to most of the second half, Tremont Waters assisted at Naz Reid three pointer to extend the lead again.
Two back-to-back buckets by Washington, who played the final 8:40 on four fouls, tied the game again at 69 with 1:13 to go. A minutes worth of sloppy ball ensued, until a late foul by Tyler Herro put Waters at the line and an opportunity for LSU to take a lead with 20 seconds to go. This was an opportunity they would capitalize on.
Kentucky’s luck had not completely run out, however, when Keldon Johnson found himself at the line with a chance to send the game into assumed OT with only six seconds remaining.
Off the inbound, Skylar Mays traveled the length of the court but missed a contested lay-up that was put back in as the buzzer sounded by Kavell Bigby-Williams. The basket was counted and officials went to the replay table. Rupp Arena adamantly opposed the call, along with John Calipari. Their claims were not necessarily in vein, as it seemed that the ball was within the cylinder when it was tapped in, but that is not a reviewable call. The only thing that could be reviewed was time, which was in LSU’s favor and the call stood.
Going forward, LSU now has hold of the #2 spot in the SEC. The Tigers will have to feel good about their standing, with the only matchup that would deter them being a home matchup against Tennessee. Slightly more of a bumpy path awaits Kentucky, who have an urgent face off against Tennessee this weekend and will face them again on March 2nd.