John Calipari and his players agree: Tuesday night’s game against LSU should not have come down to the final play. The brutal tip-in (goal-tending or not) pushed the Tigers a mere two points ahead of the Cats just as time expired, but Kentucky’s entire second half was less than ideal. And while the Cats’ defense struggled to get a stop and the shooting was far from sharp, the Cats’ second-half rebounding may have been one of the biggest issues.
“We just have to rebound in the second half,” PJ Washington said after the game. “That was big for us, and we didn’t get the job done. They out-rebounded us and unfortunately won the game.”
The difference is staggering. In the first half, Kentucky brought in 23 rebounds (6 offensive; 17 defensive) while LSU had 14 rebounds (3 offensive; 11 defensive), meaning the Cats won the battle of the boards by nine.
But in the second half, it was a different story. Kentucky finished the game with 39 rebounds, while LSU had 32. So, yes, Kentucky still had a higher total. But if you look only at the second half, LSU won 18-16. The Cats were right at their season average for boards, but the real issue was allowing the Tigers so many second-chance points.
“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 the game – not letting them get offensive rebounds,” Reid Travis said. “The last five minutes, that’s all they were doing. We feel like it’s on us.”
Coach Calipari was quick to notice the changing momentum after halftime.
“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,” Cal said after the game. “There were some rebounds late that we had to get and we just weren’t able to get them. A guy like Nick [Richards], with his size, you would hope that’s what he could do.”
Unfortunately for Kentucky, he didn’t. Richards finished with zero rebounds, and no Wildcat hit double-digits boards. Washington and Travis led the team with nine rebounds each.
“I think a lot of guys are just frustrated with the way that we played in the second half and the way we didn’t rebound and gave up point,” Travis said.
So what went wrong?
“That’s effort on us,” Immanuel Quickley said. “Second half, we’ve got to be better. Down the stretch, we’ve got to be better. Just little things: hustle plays, fighting for loose balls, 50/50s… We just have to be better all around.”
They’ll have to be better against the Volunteers this Saturday. Entering the top-5 matchup, Kentucky is averaging 39 rebounds per game; Tennessee’s average is currently sitting at 38. Grant Williams runs the boards for Tennessee, averaging 7.3 per game; PJ Washington leads Kentucky with an average of 8.1 per game.
The GameDay matchup will be a physical one, and rebounding could make a huge difference by the end of the game. Let’s just hope the Cats will be in a different position by the time Saturday’s final buzzer sounds.