Wildcats survive Tigers, 75-70
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Alex Poythress scored 20 points, including two free throws with 1 second remaining, as Kentucky survived LSU 75-70 Saturday.
Archie Goodwin added 15 points, Ryan Harrow 11 and Nerlens Noel 10 with six blocks as the Wildcats (13-6, 4-2 Southeastern Conference) recovered from Tuesday’s loss at Alabama.
Poythress also grabbed 12 rebounds to help seal Kentucky’s victory, which featured some drama at the end with the Wildcats almost having six players on the court.
The Wildcats led by as many as 15 points before halftime and were up 69-63 with 1:57 remaining before LSU rallied to within 71-70 on Johnny O’Bryant III’s follow with 3.9 seconds left. Kyle Wiltjer was fouled on the inbounds pass just as Noel appeared to be on the court before being pulled back by Wildcats assistant John Robic.
Despite protests from the LSU bench, no call was made. Game officials declined comment to a pool reporter afterward and referred all inquiries to the conference office.
Wiltjer made two free throws with 3.1 seconds left to put Kentucky up by three and Poythress clinched it with two more after rebounding Anthony Hickey’s missed front end of a one-an-one.
Kentucky shot 52 percent (27 of 52) and outrebounded LSU 39-26.
O’Bryant had 21 points for the Tigers (10-7, 1-5), who lost to the Wildcats for the fifth straight time.
Hickey added 15 points and Andre Stringer 13 for LSU, which shot 39.7 percent (25 of 63).
Kentucky’s 59-55 loss at Alabama on Wednesday created some urgency on Saturday for the Wildcats, who were looking to build their NCAA tournament resume while trying to avoid their first conference losing streak of the season.
The Wildcats’ individual play in blowing a nine-point halftime lead to the Crimson Tide led Kentucky coach John Calipari to consider sitting some players. That didn’t happen with the starting lineup as Noel, Poythress, Goodwin, Harrow and Julius Mays began their third straight game together as center Willie Cauley-Stein continued healing from a procedure on his left knee last week.
Just about every combination worked in the first half for the Wildcats, who seemed more in sync in building a 42-31 lead. Just as impressive as Kentucky’s 58 percent shooting (19 of 33) was its balance as every starter had at least two baskets while Wiltjer added six coming off the bench.
Poythress, whose low-key demeanor on the court has made him a frequent criticism target of Calipari’s, was particularly energetic with 11 points and six rebounds in 13 minutes. His most impressive sequence came late in the half as he let out a yell muscling for a tip-in and drawing the foul.
Poythress completed the three-point play for a 38-25 lead, drawing a sustained cheer as he went to the bench.
Kentucky also outrebounded LSU, 22-16, efficiency that thwarted LSU’s hopes of disrupting the Wildcats with pressure defense and perimeter shooting. The Tigers entered the game leading the SEC in steals at 10.6 per game in league play but tallied just two in the first 20 minutes.
They were also 12 of 34 from the field (35 percent) in the first half.
The Tigers turned up the pressure down the stretch and forced several turnovers that got them close.