As one of the hottest teams in all of college basketball, it was going to take an unusual effort to knock off the No. 5-ranked Kentucky Wildcats. Little did we know it would come on a controversial call as time expired on Tuesday night as the LSU Tigers raced off the Rupp Arena floor with a 73-71 upset win.
After Keldon Johnson hit two free throws with 6.0 seconds left to tie the game at 71-71, LSU’s Skylar Mays raced down the floor and missed a hurried, driving lay-up in traffic as Kavell Bigby-Williams soared high above the rim for the game-winning tip in. The instant replay clearly showed that Bigby-Williams touched the ball inside the cylinder for an obvious goaltending violation. However, the three officials huddled at the scorer’s table to watch the monitor and ruled that the basket was good to end the Wildcats’ 10-game winning streak.
After trailing 40-32 at halftime, LSU tied the game at 54-54 with 9:17 remaining on two free throws from Tremont Waters. Both teams then exchanged leads and Tyler Herro’s deep three-pointer with 4:43 tied the game again at 62-62, while PJ Washington also came up big in the second half to tie the game at 69-69 on a jumper in the lane with 1:12 left. LSU’s Tremont Waters then hit two free throws to push the Tigers’ lead back to 71-69 before Johnson’s two free throws tied the game to set up Bigby-Williams’ game-winning heroics.
Kentucky, now 20-4 (9-2), seemed out of sync offensively and connected on just 5-of-19 (26.3%) from three-point range. The Wildcats also had issues on the defensive end as several key players struggled with foul trouble, creating unusual substitution patterns that may have stifled the offense. Washington led the Wildcats in scoring with 20 points and nine rebounds. Johnson finished with 16 points, while Herro added 12.
The Wildcats now square off against the No. 1 team in the country at 8:00 p.m. ET on Saturday when the Tennessee Volunteers enter Rupp Arena with a perfect 10-0 conference record. The Vols, 20-1 this season, host South Carolina on Wednesday night before making the trek to Lexington.
After the game, Kentucky Coach John Calipari and select players meet with the media to discuss the Cats’ stunning loss at the buzzer. Here is a recap of postgame comments, courtesy of UK Athletics.
Q. Can you talk about what happened on the last play and what you saw with the shot that won the game?
JOHN CALIPARI: Look, the plays that cost us the game, and again, I don’t want to take anything away from LSU, to come in this building and do what they did down the stretch and make the shots that they made, and basically, rebound the ball offensively against us like they did, they deserve to win the game.
But, that being said, I love that our kids fought and put themselves in a position to win the game. Then it came down to that last play and I mean, you have to judge it yourself, I guess. I haven’t looked at it. I know -- I looked at it when it happened but I haven’t looked at it.
Q. As you understand it, do the refs have the opportunity to review judgment calls like that?
JOHN CALIPARI: No, and it’s another one -- do you remember we lost in the Final Four when there was a goal, a shot clock violation and they said it was not reviewable and then they changed the rule to say, why would you want to lose a game on a shot clock violation and it’s easy to go check?
Well, this one easy to go check, too. Just go check it. Why would you not -- why would that not be reviewable?
So we’re like Wilt Chamberlain; we change rules. I don’t know.
Q. You’ve been saying since the beginning of the year that unless Nick gets his game going, you guys are not going to be able to reach your potential.
JOHN CALIPARI: Right.
Q. It’s the middle of February. Do you still feel that way?
JOHN CALIPARI: I do.
Q. Do you have a Plan B in place?
JOHN CALIPARI: I do. I do. Well again, you know, there were some rebounds late that we had to get, and we just weren’t able to get them. A guy like Nick with his size, you would hope that’s what he could do.
But again, you’ve got to give them credit. They played. I mean, neither one of us turned the ball over that much. I mean, you know, we just didn’t, and we missed a bunch of shots in the second half we needed to make to keep them at bay.
We got work to do. This is a -- this game and this week is the toughest week of the season for us. These are the two games that are the tough ones, and I knew that because these guys are talented.
Q. How big was PJ late making those buckets?
JOHN CALIPARI: He gave us a chance. He gave us a chance. But there’s points in the game where you can get the game to 14, 15. You’ve got to play then. You can’t, you know, it’s -- if you think you’re going to win the game down the stretch like this as a team, I mean, Ashton (Hagans) didn’t play well today. Didn’t play well at all.
I thought Immanuel (Quickley) played well. Really guarded and did a pretty good job, but Ashton couldn’t stay in front of anybody, so every time they ran downhill, they got whatever they wanted and they were doing it to him.
You know, Tyler (Herro) got beat a bunch on drives. I mean, it’s stuff that we had gotten better at. They shot the ball 32 percent in the first half. They shot it 51 percent in the second half. That’s why you lose. We’re supposed to be a defensive team that rebounds. Well, obviously we weren’t. Give them credit.
Q. We haven’t heard your Communism comment in a little while. Are you comfortable -- how comfortable are you with this nine-man rotation going down the stretch?
JOHN CALIPARI: Good. I wish -- we need some guys to be more confident. And you could say, well, you’ve got to leave them in. Yeah, but you’ve got to win. And the other side of it is, you know, some of the guys, the situation you’re in is the situation you’re in.
So you’ve got to figure out, how do I go in here and how am I being aggressive and how do I -- you know, there’s a thing of missing shots and then there’s missing badly, and there’s a thing about defensive confidence. You can’t walk in a game and get scored on twice. You just can’t do it.
So we’ve got to figure some of that out. But I like this team. We’re good. I mean, this is a tough game and we’ve got another tough one, and the ones that are left from here on in on the road are tough. It’s going to be a struggle.
Q. It seemed like several times the second half you got beat down the court for easy baskets, and also seemed like loose balls --
JOHN CALIPARI: A couple of them. And we got them in the first half. We got them in the first half. We got beat -- we beat them in the first half, and then, they beat us back in the second half the same way. So we kind of did it to each other.
Q. The rebounding, you outrebounded them in the first half and they beat you on the boards in the second. Was that an effort thing? Did they do anything differently in the second half?
JOHN CALIPARI: I think the energy a little bit, we didn’t block out on a couple balls. They had straight runs at the rim. PJ got his fourth foul on one of those. The guy ran right around him and in front of him. He was behind him four steps, and I thought that that affected us.
We had a play where Reid (Travis) didn’t block out those were big plays that were stick-backs, in this kind of game, and sustaining effort and all those things.
But let me just say this: Again, we get down and this team fights and makes big plays to get back in the game. The free throws that we made down the stretch, we missed some but we didn’t down the stretch. The threes that we missed during the game down the stretch, this team made.
So you know, you hate for it to come down to the last play, but that happens sometimes. You hate that that play becomes questionable, but I will say that it should not take away from what LSU did. They beat us.
Q. You had to be devastated hearing about John Wall’s injury, but you had to be tickled to death about reports he was going to complete his degree. How important is that, as far as what you’re trying to establish?
JOHN CALIPARI: Well, he’s going to come back. He’s starting some stuff and I’m proud of him. But we have other guys doing it. We have four or five guys that have started already taking classes.
You know, the kids here have lifetime scholarships and they can come back when they choose to. They can come back when the time’s right, and some of them are chipping away already and it’s great to see that John will do the same. He’s going to be out a little while.
On the mood in the locker room …
“Really tough loss. Credit to LSU. They have a really good team. We just did not execute really in the second half and do what we needed to do. But, we will bounce back.”
On watching the replay …
“I think we just want to let other people deal with that. What they decided is what they decided. You just have to come out there and win that game and try to find another way.”
On what changed in the second half…
“Attention to detail, not blocking out. They outrebound us in the second half. We didn’t shoot as well. We didn’t help the outside, things like that.”
On the last play of the game …
“We never should have put ourselves in that position. We made a lot of breakdowns in the last five minutes and we can’t win games like that. So, we’ve just got to get in practice and work on it. They’re a really good team and they played well, but we just allowed them to get offensive rebounds, and that was the biggest thing coming into this game, not letting them get offensive rebounds, and the last five minutes that’s all they were doing. So, we feel like it’s on us. We just have to rebound in the second half. That was big for us, and we didn’t get the job done. They outrebounded us and unfortunately won the game.”
On remembering this feeling in March …
“We’re definitely going to remember it. We felt like we should have won this game, and it just hurts that we lost it, especially at home. I think we have a good team that pays attention to detail in practices. But, to come out here and perform like that was unacceptable.”
On holding back due to four fouls and Saturday’s game …
“Obviously, I didn’t want to foul out. I feel like I have a big role on this team, and I wanted to do everything I could to not foul out. We’re looking to bounce back Saturday. We look at every game the same and try not to underestimate anyone. We’re going to come out our hardest and just try to win.”
On what kind of look he got on the last play …
“Yeah, I was on the bench and it was kind of hard to see with all the chaos that was going on and I really didn’t get too good of a look at it.”
On if he saw the replay and what it looked like to him …
“I saw the replay. I think it’s a tough call to make in live action. Obviously, I can’t put myself in their shoes and make that call. We have many chances to win the game besides that so I think we do ourselves a disservice to get hung up on one call. We made a lot of mistakes down the stretch and it shouldn’t have come down to that so obviously it’s frustrating. Put ourselves in a great position and a call like that could go either way but at the end of the day we should’ve made more plays to where it wasn’t out of our hands at the end.”
On how it was watching the replay and if everyone was on the same page …
“Everyone was on the same page with the fact that that play was not what we need to sit down and dwell on and I think a lot of guys are juts frustrated with the way that we played in the second half and the way we didn’t rebound and gave up points. So I don’t think as much that we’re too hung up on that call. It’s tough and it’s a tough break but obviously there was opportunity to be there at the end and we would’ve loved for it to go the other way but when you look at the greater scope of the game and that wasn’t there.”
On how good LSU is …
“They’re good, they’re physical and they rebound the ball really well. We knew that on film and felt like we did a great job of sticking with it in the first half and the second half we got away from that and I think that’s where we slipped and it was tough for us to defend. We weren’t talking, we weren’t engaged, not doing the things we did in the first half.”