Game Writeup – Courtesy of Dr. Jeffrey Neil Burch; Dr. J’s UK Newsletter, Vol. 3 No. 24. (All Rights Reserved)
Never Never Never Never Never Never Never Give Up!:
If you hadn’t seen it with your own eyes, you probably would not have believed it.
Kentucky played as poorly against LSU in the first half and early second half as they ever have against any team. They were down by 31 points, and making such elementary mistakes that one might almost have expected Rick Pitino to stop the game, concede, and leave. Instead, Kentucky staged the greatest collegiate comeback ever from a deficit to win the game 99-95, a new NCAA record. Duke held the previous record, when it was down 56-27 at the half against Tulane on December 30, 1950, yet came back to win 74-72 (this according to the 1994 NCAA Basketball book).
Nothing went right for that Cats early. Nothing. The Cats had lost their last 4 in a row in Baton Rouge, and this game seemed to be following a similar script. Andre Riddick put Kentucky ahead 1-0 on a free throw (missing the other), but LSU quickly zipped ahead on a Ceasar basket (which didn’t occur until 2 minutes into the game). The Cats had several shots blocked when they were tentative inside, and some awful 3 point shooting assisted the Tigers in going up 7-1 with 4.5 minutes gone in the first half.
Riddick made UK’s first field goal shortly after, but a total absence of defense allowed LSU’s Lenear Burns to score unmolested to put the Tigers up 9-3. Pitino was so frustrated with his team’s poor offensive performance that he benched Prickett, Rhodes, and Riddick in favor of McCarty, Brassow, and Martinez early on in a single mass substitution.
LSU exhibited phenomenal shooting over Kentucky’s zone, especially from 3 point distance and despite occasional tight coverage. The Tigers seemed so in control that ESPN felt able to switch coverage to the conclusion of the Villanova-Connecticut game. They returned later with LSU leading by 22-15 with 8 minutes gone in the half. Ronnie Henderson was absolutely unconscious from the 3 point line, starting 6-7 even when closely guarded. Gimel Martinez was Kentucky’s sole scoring source inside, getting 10 points fairly quickly to keep UK in the game. Gimel had 12 points by halftime and scored only one in the second half. By the time LSU had reached a 32-23 lead only one of Kentucky’s starters had scored. Another Henderson 3 put LSU up 37-25 with 3.5 minutes left, another identical shot put them up 43-25, then Ceasar hit a 3 for a 43-25 lead, then Henderson hit another 3 to put the Tigers up 46-25 with 2.5 minutes left. Prickett finally got a basket underneath to halt UK’s scoring drought, and Ford hit a 3 to pull back to within 46-30.
Play was rough – Wildcat players were pushed around with no calls made, until finally the refs had to warn a group under the LSU basket to stop shoving. Rodrick Rhodes thereupon pushed a Tiger player in front of an official and was immediately called for a foul. LSU had a 48-32 lead at the half. Kentucky’s starters had only scored 9 points, and the Wildcats suffered from 39% first half field goal shooting.
Pitino benched Prickett and Rhodes to start the second half, going with Brassow and McCarty. A Brandon drive and Henderson free throws put the Tigers up 52-35. Ceasar got five quick points and LSU led 57-37. A Kentucky player was knocked to the floor hard on the next UK possession, but no call was made, yet Travis Ford grabbed Ceasar’s arm as he was shooting, and was called for a deliberate foul (it probably was, but then so was the uncalled foul against the Tigers). A Brandon 3, several Kentucky turnovers, and a Ceasar basket and free throw made it 64-37. Travis Ford was playing badly, and Pitino played Epps for a while. More baskets by Ceasar put Louisiana State up 68-37, their largest lead of the night. It seemed at that point that everything worked for the Tigers, and the wheels were falling off for the Cats. The Tigers went on an 18-0 run against the Cats to create this lead.
Kentucky could have folded their tents and gone home, but instead they tried almost nothing but 3 point shots for a while, and they started to shave the lead a bit. LSU visibly relaxed, and thought they had the game in the bag, but they became careless with passes and missed many free throw opportunities. Brassow, Delk, Ford, and McCarty combined to bring UK within 12, and after an exchange of baskets, Brassow hit 2 consecutive 3s to bring the Cats to within 10. McCarty made an inside shot which cut the margin to 82-74, then Burns and Rhodes fouled out for their respective teams.
A layup by Ford and a basket by Titus led to an LSU margin of 87-78. Despite making more turnovers, UK chiseled away at the lead when LSU became even sloppier and their hot shooting (68% for field goals in the first half) deserted them. A Ford 3 pointer brought the score to within 6 at 88-82. Henderson made a 3, then Ford made an characteristic travel when he took a step and found no one to receive his pass. A pair of Brassow 3 pointers at 2:30 and 2:00 left in the game brought Kentucky back to within 93-90. Ceasar was fouled on a drive and hit his free throws (most of which LSU missed during Kentucky’s comeback) to go up 95-90.
A Tony Delk 3 with 1:40 left cut this to 95-93, whereupon LSU, instead of using up a lot of the clock, turned the ball over to give new life to the Cats. Kentucky then turned the ball back over, but the Tigers lost the ball yet again. UK missed a 3 but Brassow was fouled by Rubchenko. Jeff missed both free throws but Kentucky somehow got the ball after it was knocked out of bounds. McCarty hit a 3 from the corner (right in front of the Kentucky bench, which was yelling at him to shoot), and his goal put the Wildcats up by 96-95 with 19 seconds remaining. LSU called its last timeout with 11.5 seconds left to set up a scoring play. Kentucky saw the offensive set of the Tigers and called its own last timeout.
LSU ended up getting off a poor shot which Tony Delk rebounded with 4.4 seconds left, and he was immediately fouled. Tony missed his first FT but hit the second for a 97-95 lead. LSU threw a long pass down court, but the LSU player who caught it fell down and was called for traveling. Ford was fouled on the inbounds play, and hit both his free throws with 2.2 seconds left, and that was the game. 99-95 was the final, with Kentucky outscoring LSU 62-27 in the second half to win (the Wildcats outscored LSU 9-0 to finish the game. McCarty finished with 23 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks, and 2 steals.
Kentucky hit 12 of 23 3 point shots in the second half, and LSU missed 11 of 12 free throws in the game’s final 12 minutes.