Kentucky basketball blows big second-half lead, suffers buzzer-beating SEC loss at LSU

Kentucky basketball frittered away a 15-point second-half lead on Wednesday night in Baton Rouge, which meant John Calipari’s squad had to go win the game for a second time against the LSU Tigers inside a sparsely populated Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

And the Wildcats were unable to do so.

A Tyrell Ward layup at the buzzer negated what appeared to be a game-winning long-range jumper by Rob Dillingham with 13 seconds left, and sent the LSU students spilling onto the court as part of a 75-74 buzzer-beating, court-storming win for the Tigers over the Wildcats.

Kentucky got another stellar scoring night on Wednesday from fifth-year guard Antonio Reeves — who became a 1,000-point scorer at UK during the game — while stumbling to the puzzling defeat, which further clouds the Cats’ NCAA Tournament résumé after last weekend’s road triumph at Auburn.

Finding offense beyond Reeves (25 points) proved a tall order for the Wildcats on Wednesday: Reeves was only joined by Dillingham (23) as double-digit scorers for Kentucky. Dillingham scored 21 of those 23 points in the second half.

Reeves and Dillingham combined for more than 64% of UK’s points.

Kentucky went on a 10-0 run to close the first half, then both Justin Edwards and Reeves hit 3-pointers out of the halftime break to give UK its 15-point cushion.

Then, things soured.

A 15-2 LSU run brought the Tigers right back into the game. This included a span during which Kentucky went 6:11 of game time without making a shot from the field: UK’s only points during this period were four made free throws by Reeves.

The Wildcats also endured a 4:51 stretch of game play in the first half without scoring. But while the Wildcats’ defense only allowed UK to lose this earlier stretch 4-0 on the scoreboard to LSU, the Tigers poured on the points in the second half.

LSU scored 48 points in the second period and made 48.5% of their second-half shots, including Ward’s last-second layup that proved to be the deciding bucket.

Wednesday’s defeat snaps a streak of three straight road wins for Kentucky, and likely rules the Wildcats out of contention for an SEC regular-season championship.

On the other side, LSU has now strung together consecutive comeback wins against ranked opponents. On Saturday, the Tigers erased a 16-point second-half deficit to win at a ranked South Carolina team. On Wednesday, another big second-half comeback victory came at the expense of the Wildcats.

Perhaps the close nature of Wednesday’s contest shouldn’t have been a surprise, either. The last four games in the Kentucky-LSU series have now been decided by five points, five points, three points and now, one point.

Tre Mitchell missed Wednesday’s loss at LSU with injury

For the 25th time out of 26 games this season, Kentucky was at less than full strength: Fifth-year forward Tre Mitchell was out injured for the second straight contest.

Mitchell, who is averaging 12.0 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists this season, has started all 22 games that he’s played in for Kentucky after previous college stops at UMass, Texas and West Virginia.

In all four of his injury absences this season, Mitchell has been replaced in the UK starting lineup by Adou Thiero. On Wednesday, Thiero had eight points and nine rebounds. Thiero led all players in the game in rebounding.

Former UK player Daimion Collins reunites with John Calipari

Ex-Cat Daimion Collins, a former McDonald’s All-American who spent two seasons in Lexington before transferring to LSU last offseason, didn’t see the court Wednesday night. Collins has only played in six contests for the Tigers this season.

He dislocated his right shoulder during a game in late November, and he has only played once since sustaining that injury.

Pregame, Calipari and Collins shared a hug and brief conversation on the court.

SEC standings remain tight with five league games left

While the current bracketology picture for Kentucky basketball is still largely a mystery with five regular-season games to go plus the SEC Tournament, the race for the SEC regular-season title remains tight.

In addition to the prestige that comes with winning a regular-season league championship, the top four teams in the SEC standings will also secure a double-bye for next month’s conference tournament.

A big domino in this picture fell Wednesday night in Tuscaloosa, where No. 13 Alabama outlasted No. 24 Florida in an overtime thriller. This, coupled with Kentucky’s loss, leaves the SEC standings looking like this with five games to go for each team:

Alabama (11-2 in SEC games).

Tennessee (10-3 in SEC games).

Auburn and South Carolina (9-4 in SEC games).

Florida and Kentucky (8-5 in SEC games).

UK hosts Alabama at 4 p.m. Saturday at Rupp Arena, which will represent the first of two games left this season for Kentucky against teams projected to be top 16 overall seeds in the NCAA Tournament.

Kentucky guard D.J. Wagner (21) loses control of the ball against LSU forward Will Baker (9) during Wednesday’s game. Silas Walker/
Kentucky guard D.J. Wagner (21) loses control of the ball against LSU forward Will Baker (9) during Wednesday’s game. Silas Walker/

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