LSU dropped Wednesday night’s SEC opener to Kentucky 74-71 at home in a game that might end up being a microcosm of head coach Will Wade’s first year in Baton Rouge.
Despite being shorthanded in contrast to Kentucky’s constant mantra of “reload, don’t rebuild”, the Tigers kept it close all game and had a lead for a significant portion of the game. An 11-6 run to close out the first half gave LSU a 36-31 advantage at halftime.
To their credit, Kentucky battled back in the second half by playing to its strengths with confidence and were able to take a late 67-65 lead with three minutes and some change to play. Duop Reath had a dunk to tie the game at 67 all, but two straight Kentucky baskets gave the Wildcats all they needed to see the game through.
“I thought in the first half that we played really well,” LSU coach Will Wade said. “We should have been up more at halftime. That’s where we lost the game. We didn’t give ourselves enough of a working margin in the first half. In the second half, they (Kentucky) figured out what was going on and just put their head down, which was very, very smart.”
“Against a team like Kentucky, you have to play 40 minutes. I said that the other day, you have to play the full game. We just had too many lapses.”
Down 74-71 in the final possession of the game, LSU’s Tremont Waters tried to draw a foul on the three after an attempt at a screen failed. His shot was awkward and fell short of the rim, clipping the net. The ball went out off an Kentucky player with only .8 seconds left, only enough time for a catch and shoot. The inbounds pass went to Brandon Sampson, whose shot was close but a little too far in front of the rim to take a bounce in.
“We were trying to run the same play we ran in the first half where (Aaron) Epps got the open three and hit it in front of the Kentucky bench,” Wade said. “(But) we couldn’t get set.”
“They just played the three-point line really well,” Duop Reath said. “We just made a mistake or two. I just felt they played great defense on the three-point line.”
Duop Reath had a career night for the Tigers with 24 points and 11 rebounds, the first double double of the season for Reath and the eighth in his career. LSU’s big man had two three pointers in the night including one to give LSU their last lead of night. Freshman Waters also had a double double with 18 points and 11 rebounds, his third of the year.
“I felt like everybody, as a team, came out wanting to win the game,” Reath said. “At the end of the day it didn’t go that way. I am going to use this as a good learning experience and just move on.”
LSU shot 44.6 percent on the night (29/65) and were 6/24 from three point land while Kentucky shot 50.8 percent (31/61) and going 5/12 from outside the arc. The Wildcats out-rebounded LSU 35-34.
It was a tough loss for the Tigers, but an inspiring loss none the less. LSU was competitive against a Kentucky team in men’s basketball, which is a far cry from where the program was last season. In the larger context of the Will Wade era at LSU, year one final results are nowhere near as important as the on-court product produced. This is a rebuilding process and right now LSU obviously wants wins, but so long as there is a continued improvement it is hard to be displeased with this result.