LSU falls short in upset bid vs. No. 17 Kentucky, 74-71
BATON ROUGE, La. — LSU and first-year head coach Will Wade were done no favors by the Southeastern Conference schedule makers.
The Tigers were thrown into the deep end for their conference opener at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center against the No. 17 Kentucky Wildcats after a non-conference schedule that saw LSU earn a single victory against a team ranked in the RPI Top-50.
After leading by five at the half, LSU (9-4, 0-1 SEC) couldn’t hold on down the stretch as Kentucky (12-2, 2-0) came back to steal the win, 74-71.
The Tigers led 65-64 with 3:31 remaining after Duop Reath hit his second three-pointer of the game. Kentucky would retake the lead on a conventional three-point play by PJ Washington, one of five freshmen starting for the Wildcats.
LSU tied the score at 67 when Aaron Epps found Reath for a dunk, but Washington would beat him inside for the hoop and the foul on the next position to put UK back in front. Washington missed the free throw, but Shai Gilgeous-Alexander grabbed the offensive rebound and scored the putback to give Kentucky a four-point advantage with 1:16 remaining.
Kentucky was up three when Reath grabbed his fourth offensive rebound of the night and found Epps for a layup that made the score 71-72 with :23 on the clock.
Trying to extend the game, Tyler Mays sent Gilgeous-Alexander to the line for two with :16 to go. He made both free throws to put the ‘Cats up by three.
LSU inbounded to Waters up top, but Kentucky took away his primary look and he was forced to try to draw contact on a three-point attempt. The shot missed but was knocked out of bounds by the Wildcats with four-tenths of a second remaining, giving LSU one last shot.
“There was a play called that we were supposed to run, but we screwed it up at the end,” Waters said. “There were seven seconds on the clock so I just tried to draw a foul at the three-point line.”
The ball was inbounded to Brandon Sampson, but his shot was just long and Will Wade’s SEC debut ended in a loss.
“I thought in the first half we played really well,” said Wade after the game. “We should have been up more at halftime. That’s where we lost the game. We didn’t give ourselves enough of a working margin in the first half.”
“Against a team like Kentucky, you have to play 40 minutes, you have to play a full game and we just had too many lapses.”
The Tigers did well in the paint, with Kentucky only outscoring LSU by two points down low, but the home team could not make shots from distance, going 6-for-24 from beyond the arc.
“Kentucky’s length bothered us,” Wade added. “We practiced against sticks all week and we struggled scoring over the length in practice and their length bothered us tonight during the game. They’re coming at you a lot quicker, they’re contesting..they’re longer, they’re bigger. That hurt us.”
Reath came up big for the Tigers, scoring a game-high 24 points and pulling down 11 rebounds in the losing effort. Waters had his fourth double-double of the season with 18 points and 11 boards.
“He was unbelievable,” Kentucky Head Coach John Calipari said of the LSU big man. “Will was doing so good stuff with him. He dominated us around the goal, absolutely dominated us.”
“It doesn’t matter,” said Reath. “When you lose, it doesn’t matter how you perform.”
Kentucky got 18 points apiece from Washington and Gilgeous-Alexander, and Kevin Knox had 16 points and 11 rebounds for the Wildcats.
The energy was high as nearly 12,000 fans packed into the P-MAC, but it was Kentucky that would get off to the good start. All five starters scored for the Wildcats as they jumped out to an 11-4 lead.
LSU would climb back with a 9-3 run of its own as Skylar Mays and Waters both knocked down long three-pointers. The Tigers would take their first lead of the game at 20-18 on a layup by Waters with 8:35 to play in the first half.
Knox scored seven straight points for Kentucky, putting the Wildcats back in front 25-23. But LSU would close the half on a 13-6 run to go into the locker room up 36-31.
For the Tigers, it was a tough learning experience, but a learning experience nonetheless.
“We have to come out and listen to Coach (Will Wade) in the huddles,” said Waters. “He gave us an example of what to do, we just didn’t execute. In practice we just have to continue to get better, go over these late-game situations, and just listen to coach and execute when we get on the court.”
LSU will have a chance to see what they’ve learned this Saturday when they face Texas A&M in College Station. The 11-th ranked Aggies are currently 11-3, 0-2 in conference play.
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David Grubb has more than a decade of experience in the sports industry. He began his career with KLAX-TV in Alexandria, La. and followed that up with a stint as an reporter and anchor with WGGB-TV in Springfield, Mass. After spending a few years away from the industry, David worked as sports information director for Southern University at New Orleans…