KENTUCKY 75, LSU 70
Jan. 26, 2013
Rupp Arena; Lexington, Ky.
Nerlens Noel blocked one of six shots in Kentucky's win (Darrell Bird/TCP)
It was far from a whomping and looked eerily similar to much of the rest of the season but Kentucky made just enough plays down the stretch to avoid another come-from-ahead defeat.
The Cats led by 11 with six minutes remaining but saw their lead sliced to one in the final minute before escaping with a 75-70 victory over LSU at Rupp Arena. The win was desperately needed but again showed the inconsistent nature of UK's season.
Alex Poythress recorded his first career double-double with 20 points and 12 rebounds, earning a bear hug and smile from UK coach John Calipari as he exited the game upon sealing the win with a pair of free throws.
Kentucky trailed for just 94 seconds of the game but could never put the Tigers away, giving them life until a late flagrant foul call on Julius Mays sparked LSU's final rally.
“I keep telling everybody, when you watch games, you just say, 'You know what, let's just get right.' We have got to get this thing right. I'm not worried about another team. I don't care who wins and loses, If I get this team right we'll be fine. We are not right, right now. You've got to get out of your own self's way so you can burst through.”
“I just thought, in terms of their youth, if we could have forced them to have to play and if we could have gotten a three to five-point lead and forced them to execute in the halfcourt, I thought it could possibly be a little tougher for them. I think it comes with their youth and we were hopeful to put them in that position but to their credit I thought they did an excellent job of preventing that.” – LSU coach Johnny Jones, on the Tigers' comeback
FROM THE LOCKER ROOM
“Just us not executing and then letting them get easy buckets on the other end. We have to learn how to play a whole 40 minutes and the last five minutes we seem to let loose a little bit and loosen up. We have to continue to work on staying focused the whole game.” – UK guard Archie Goodwin, on allowing teams back into games after substantial leads
Alex Poythress smiled. Multiple times. And he added a fist pump for good measure. It's been a long process for Kentucky's non-emotive freshman forward but he turned in his best game since November with a 20-point, 12-rebound effort that gave him his first career double-double. Poythress looked like the player UK coach John Calipari has been imploring him to be, showing sustained effort, energy and pace as he helped save the Cats in a game that should not have come down to the final seconds. It was Poythress' first 20-point game since Nov. 23 against LIU-Brooklyn and first double-digit rebounding performance.
Kentucky nearly found itself wondering how it let another game get away down the stretch, allowing LSU to claw within a single point in the closing seconds after leading virtually the entire contest. The Cats led 65-54 and had the ball with six minutes remaining when Julius Mays tried to clear space for himself with an LSU defender hanging on him near the Cats' bench. The officials huddled around the replay monitor and assessed Mays with a flagrant foul, giving the Tigers two free throws and the ball in what became a four-point possession that cut the UK lead to seven and sparked what nearly became a stunning rally.
Archie Goodwin has caught a great deal of flak for his play in recent weeks, some of it probably warranted and some of it not, as he tries to rein in his game. It's been a difficult learning curve for the prolific high school scorer who is being asked to become more of a versatile threat who can find open teammates as opposing defenses crash down on his drives. Goodwin's numbers won't wow anyone – 15 points, five rebounds, two assists, four turnovers – but he was much more under control and made better decisions throughout much of the game.
33 – Nerlens Noel was billed as a better shot blocker than the record-setting Anthony Davis when he arrived at Kentucky but got off to a bit of a slow start with only one game of more than five blocks through his first eight games. The 6-foot-11 freshman forward has begun rapidly closing on Davis' pace when he broke the UK single-season blocked shot record last season, rejecting 33 shots in the past five games. Noel now has 82 to place him fourth on the UK single-season list and just nine off the 91 Davis had through his first 19 games.
The script was all too familiar for Kentucky: get a lead, fail to take advantage of multiple opportunities to put the game on ice, then have to sweat out a far too close for comfort outcome. The good news is the Cats were able to hold on and get a critical win but you still have to wonder if this is just who and what they are this season or if there is a breakout still to come. If they do pull it together and bust out they'll be a threat because college basketball does not look overly strong this season.
Kentucky (13-6, 4-2) faces a critical road swing through Ole Miss and Texas A&M next week, beginning with a 9 p.m. tip against the Rebels at Tad Smith Coliseum on Tuesday, Jan. 29.