This one was a microcosm and a calamity. With a demoralizing loss in Rupp Arena, LSU's season is more or less finished for all intents and purposes and it ended the same way it played out.
There's no shame in losing to a burgeoning Kentucky squad on the road, but the Tigers should be embarrassed by the effort they put forth. Kentucky piled up 12 -- TWELVE -- dunks, Tyler Ulis out-assisted the entire LSU team by 5, UK out-rebounded LSU by 16 and shot 58 percent inside the 3-point line. LSU routinely looked like it had no interest in trying to salvage its season.
And really, is that a surprise? Like, at all? LSU has played defense like this for three weeks now, allowing an average of 52.6 second-half points in its last five games. That's a shocking total, wholly indicative of a disgruntled team that never reached a mature state. Quite simply, this is the most disappointing LSU team since Shaq and Chris Jackson roamed the PMAC.
Again, Kentucky deserves some credit here. Ulis is as good as they come in college basketball, seamlessly navigating defenders and setting his teammates up in prime position. Skal Labissiere is finally playing up to his potential, and he blocked six shots while dropping 18 points on some thunderous slams. Jamal Murray can really shoot the rock. Kentucky, much like it was in 2011 and 2014, will be a mid-level seed with Final 4 potential.
But this game still said far more about LSU. It's easy to look like a world beater against this bunch.
Remember, this capped off a season that included losses to Charleston, NC State, Wake Forest, Arkansas and Tennessee. There are six losses to sub-100 RPI teams. You'd be fine with LSU losing, even in beatdown fashion, at Kentucky if they didn't HAVE to win this game in the first place. It's a broken record at this point, but it's embarrassing they delivered such a futile effort in a must-win game.
Ben Simmons was again more than fine, with a 17-point, 11-rebound, seven-assist, four-steal effort. Not to mention the numerous assist opportunities his teammates squandered. His defense leaves much to be desired, but a lot of that stems from being unable to seriously and consistently challenge plays at the rim to avoid foul trouble given this team's interior depth. Because we all saw how it looked when Darcy Malone was out there.
Simmons isn't a perfect player, and neither is his effort. But he showed up damn near every game for a team that perpetually underperformed and always -- ALWAYS -- looked to set his teammates up. Any notion that Simmons was a selfish college player should be laughed at, taken as an unreasonable hot take with no context for team effort or expectation level.
Tim Quarterman and Antonio Blakeney were merely fine, which is acceptable. Except they needed to be great for LSU to have a chance. The duo combined for 42 quiet points, a solid 10 of them compiled in garbage time with LSU down 20. The Tigers trailed by as much as 26 at one point. Craig Victor and Jalyn Patterson were complete non-factors and the bench offered zero aid. Keith Hornsby was sorely missed.
There's no need to rehash the more lengthy criticisms of Johnny Jones we've proffered many times already. You either think this massive waste of talent, for a second and arguably third time in three seasons, falls on him or not. He was his usual self Saturday, twice waiting two possessions too late to take timeouts in the midst of UK runs, trotting Darcy out there when Victor had one foul and just generally not keeping his players in check, from a defensive discipline or emotional standpoint.
It all means LSU is NIT-bound with the No. 1 pick in the draft and five total top 100 recruits, barring a miracle run in the SEC Tournament. The Tigers did get some help, locking up a top 4 seed thanks to Vanderbilt's loss at Texas A&M. It's still a pipe dream to win three in a row against some likely combination of Florida, Vandy, A&M, Kentucky, South Carolina and Alabama in Nashville.
A season with so much promise, such warranted high expectations, is officially in tatters. It's telling that there wasn't even any outraged groans from the fanbase at this one. It was a two-hour long exhale, a freeing from further disappointment.
LSU basketball is one long and exasperated sigh, stretched over five months each and every winter.