All of the talk after Kentucky’s surprise home loss to LSU is about the goaltending or the stupid rule that prevents the officials from reviewing the play to make the correct call. If Joe Lindsey is allowed to review the tip-in and correctly call basket interference, the game goes to overtime and may the best team win. Instead we’re left with a screw-job that could have a huge impact on SEC Tournament seeding, and in turn, Kentucky’s shot at a No. 1 overall seed in the Big Dance.
It’s easy to blame the final split second of the game for the loss, but much more went wrong in the defeat of the Wildcats. Had the initial layup gone in at the buzzer, we’d be talking about these 10 things that played huge roles in the sad ending.
1. Keldon Johnson got torched.
It’s easy for Kentucky fans to complain about the basket interference (and it was basket interference) but the play went wrong when Keldon Johnson got burnt by a crossover that freed Skylar Mays to attack the rim. With Johnson in Mays’ dust, PJ Washington and EJ Montgomery had to meet Mays at the basket, which then left Kavell Bigby-Williams wide open and untouched to clean up the glass with the game-winning tip-in. The whole controversy could’ve been prevented if Johnson had played better defense and stayed in front of his man.
2. Reid Travis’ turnover ruined a great opportunity to win it in regulation.
Reid Travis pulled down a huge offensive rebound that should’ve given Kentucky the final shot in regulation in a tie game; however, he got pinned by LSU’s length and turned the ball over while trying to get the ball out to a guard to reset the offense. It’s hard to be critical of the turnover after he hauled in what should’ve been a game-changing rebound, but it turned a no-loss scenario (at least in regulation) into Tremont Waters taking the ball the other way.
Speaking of that rebound…
3. How did Keldon Johnson’s shot not go in?
Johnson’s floater to give Kentucky a two-point lead with under 30 seconds to go touched every part of the iron before rattling back out. How did that not drop? If that shot goes down, Kentucky needs one stop to escape with a victory, instead we have the Travis turnover and LSU going the other way.
4. Tyler Herro made two really bad plays in the final 30 seconds.
First it was the foul 40 feet from the basket that sent Waters to the foul line for two free throws to give LSU a two-point lead with 20 seconds to go. It was a heady play by Waters to draw the foul on Herro, but he has to know better than to put himself in that position so far from the basket.
Herro’s second bad play was the contested three-point try with 11 seconds to go and UK down two. He tried to rise up over two outstretched LSU defenders and the shot clanked off the rim. Luckily, Reid Travis was there for another one of those big offensive rebounds to keep the dream alive. Herro’s shot shouldn’t be excused, though, because it was a very selfish shot attempt. Hero ball, one might say.
5. Ashton Hagans had another bad game.
Hagans had a tough assignment in Tremont Waters, one of the best players in the SEC, and his team needed him to show up. Bad news: He did not show up.
Coach Cal said afterward, “Ashton didn’t play well today. Didn’t play well at all… 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.”
His poor defense earned him more bench time than he’s used to getting. He played only 21 minutes, his lowest since the Monmouth game back in December, while Immanuel Quickley played more than he’s played since mid-December, also with 21 minutes.
6. Papa John was sitting behind the bench.
Need someone to blame? Blame Papa John, who sat directly behind John Calipari. It’s all his fault. Go back to Louisville.
7. LSU out-rebounded UK late in the game.
Kentucky owned the glass before halftime, but it was LSU that dominated the boards in the second half, including six big offensive rebounds. LSU had zero second-chance points in the first half and then 12 second-chance points in the second. Calipari said they simply didn’t block out as well toward the end of the game.
8. PJ Washington’s fourth foul hurt.
Things really changed when Washington went to the bench with nine minutes to go. LSU had already made it a game at that point with Washington on the floor, but the Tigers really took advantage of Washington on the sideline. EJ Montgomery didn’t play particularly well, Nick Richards played only three minutes and Reid Travis struggled with the Tigers’ length and athleticism. Kentucky needed PJ Washington at all times and foul trouble sent him to the bench at a pivotal point in the game, although he did come back in to keep the fight alive until the end.
9. Hagans and Quickley had one assist each.
Those are your point guards and they have to do better than a combined two assists.
10. Kentucky blew a nine-point lead at home.
Above all else, the reason Kentucky lost is because Kentucky couldn’t seal the deal when it had LSU down. The lead got up to nine points early in the second half and the Cats let the Tigers back in and failed to get it done on their own floor. You can point the blame to individual mistakes in the final minute, basket interference, a stupid rule against monitor reviews or Papa John, but the loss ultimately falls on Kentucky getting outplayed in the second half in Rupp Arena. There’s the story.