LEXINGTON, Ky (KT) — It came down to the last play and LSU made a strong statement that it’s a team to be reckoned with in the Southeastern Conference.
The Tigers have only won six times in Lexington and this one was perhaps the most stunning, considering the ending. After Keldon Johnson made two free throws with 6 seconds left, Skylar Mays drove the length of the court. His shot missed but Bigby-Williams got the offensive rebound and scored to give the Tigers a 73-71 triumph for their first win over the Wildcats since 2009.
The loss was hard to swallow for the Wildcats, who had a 10-game winning streak snapped on their home floor.
“We get down (in the second half) and this team fights and makes big plays to get back in the game,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “… 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.”
A video replay showed potential goal-tending by Bigby-Williams, but officials determined the basket was good before the buzzer and reviewed whether or not the basket was scored before time expired as opposed to potential goal-tending. The call was similar to the Wildcats’ 71-64 loss to Wisconsin in the 2015 Final Four in Indianapolis.
“(At the time) 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?” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “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.”
From his perspective, LSU coach Will Wade said the call wasn’t reviewable but admitted he didn’t see the replay on the video board.
“I think the only thing that’s reviewable is the clock,” Wade said. “I don’t think the actual play is reviewable. The play stands, but I think the clock is what’s reviewable.”
The controversial outcome put a damper on the Wildcats’ upcoming matchup with top-ranked Tennessee set for Saturday. Although disappointed with the loss, Calipari praised his team’s ability to show grit and toughness down the stretch.
“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 as they did, they deserve to win the game,” he said. “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.”
For the sixth time in the past seven games, Kentucky forward PJ Washington scored 20 points or more and carried the load for Kentucky, especially down the stretch. Calipari was equally disappointed in the play of point guard Ashton Hagans.
“He gave us a chance,” Calipari said of Washington. “He gave us a chance. But there are points in the game where you can get the game to 14, 15. You've got to play then. You can't, you know — if you think you're going to win the game down the stretch like this as a team, I mean, Ashton didn't play well today. Didn't play well at all.”
Just as the Wildcats did following a 77-75 loss to Alabama in the league opener on Jan. 3, Kentucky guard Immanuel Quickley is confident the Wildcats will respond in a positive manner and close out the season on a high note.
“They’re a good team,” Quickley said. “We just didn’t execute in the second half. I think we’ll bounce back. We just have to stay together. We’ve been through a lot of tough games during the season. We just have to come out the next game and play harder and smarter.”
Gametracker: Tennessee at Kentucky, 8 p.m., Saturday. TV/Radio: ESPN, UK Radio Network.
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @keithtaylor21.