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Kentucky passes first true road test of the year with 74-71 win over LSU

By Keith Taylor
Kentucky Today

Kentucky passed its first road test of the season with a 74-71 triumph over LSU Wednesday night in Baton Rouge.

The Wildcats (12-2, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) overcome a five-point halftime deficit and made three of four free throws down the stretch to hold off the Tigers. LSU (9-4, 0-1) missed two 3-point attempts in the final 16 seconds.

“We made plays down the stretch, but they got a big rebound, the ball out of bounds – Kevin (Knox) had it, bring it in,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said afterward. “Don’t fumble it out of bounds, bring that ball in, that’s the game-winner. The game’s over on that. So, we gave them some chances, but I liked our will to win at the end.

“I told them after, that’s probably every game we play. My hope is we have a chance to win at the end. But there’s not going to be blowouts in this league. I’m sorry. The league is too good.”

PJ Washington and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander paced the Kentucky offense with 18 points apiece. Washington scored five points on back-to-back possessions for the Wildcats in the closing seconds to break a 67-67 deadlock and allowed the Wildcats to keep the lead down the stretch.

Gilgeous-Alexander has scored double figures in the past three games and has become Kentucky’s most reliable player.

“I have a lot of confidence in Shai because I know he’s going to do the right thing,” Washington said. “He can get to the rack easy and find others and he can also score. We feel like a lot of point guards in the conference can’t really guard him, so we’re going to keep going to him until somebody stops him.”

Kevin Knox followed Washington and Gilgeous-Alexander with 16 points. Knox, who scored just 15 points in the team’s two previous games against Louisville and Georgia, respectively, led Kentucky with 10 points in the first half and made all four of his attempts from the field, including a pair of 3-pointers.

Calipari liked the way Washington performed throughout the contest.

“Even in the first half I thought PJ was the only one trying to go at the rim,” he said. “Like, he may have gotten a shot blocked or they, you know — but he kept telling guys, ‘Would you quit shooting jumpers? Go at this rim. And so in the second half, versus driving, we tried to do it from passing to get it near the basket and, you know, I’m happy for him. Somebody on this team has gotta step up and be able to tell guys more than just me. Part of it’s passing the ball. Some of it’s being engaged. Some of it’s being tougher. Some of it’s fighting. But you’re talking a young team. That’s the kind of stuff that it just takes time.”

The Tigers led 36-31 at the break and closed the first half by making seven of their last eight shots of the half. Duop Reath and Tremont Waters combined for 23 points to pace LSU in the opening half. Waters and Reath combined for three of the team’s five 3-pointers. Reath scored 13 points in the first half.

“We got punched in the mouth first in the first half,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “They were the aggressors and we just let them attack us. That was the emphasis. We had to come out in the second half and be the aggressors. I think we did that in the second half and that’s why we won.”

Kentucky struggled with 11 turnovers in the first half, which resulted in seven points for the hosts. Kentucky guards Hamidou Diallo (4), Gilgeous-Alexander (3) and Quade Green (2) combined for nine of those miscues. Kentucky committed just three turnovers in the second half, a big reason the Wildcats were able to hold off the Tigers.

Kentucky didn’t attempt a free-throw attempt in the opening half. The Wildcats made a season-high 27 free throws in a win over Georgia earlier this week. Kentucky made seven shots on 13 attempts from the charity stripe in the second half.

Reath led LSU with 24 points, followed by Waters with 18 and Aaron Epps with 13.

Looking ahead

The Wildcats take on Tennessee Saturday in a 9 p.m. contest in Knoxville. The Volunteers (9-4) are coming off back-to-back losses to open conference play. Tennessee lost to Arkansas 95-93 in overtime last Saturday, followed by a 94-84 setback to surging Auburn Tuesday at Thompson-Boling Arena.

Gametracker: Kentucky at Tennessee, Saturday, 9 p.m. TV/Radio: SEC Network, 98.1 FM, WBUL, Lexington.

Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.

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