NEW ORLEANS — For a player most noted for a horse-collar takedown of Kentucky star Anthony Davis, LSU forward Malcolm White sure was quick to flash a disarming smile Wednesday.
The smile grew wider and more sheepish when a reporter introduced himself. "You're from Lexington?" he asked.
White clearly knew what was coming. He patiently — and repeatedly — explained why he took down Davis from behind early in the second half of Kentucky's 74-50 blowout victory at LSU on Jan. 28.
"It was out of character," White said after LSU's practice in preparation for the Southeastern Conference Tournament. "... I just made a bad play. I should have made a play on the ball."
With UK pulling away and the prospect of an LSU upset victory vanishing, Davis intercepted a pass intended for White. White chased down Davis, grabbed him from behind and flung him down to the court. As Davis sprawled in the lane, White walked away ... and kept walking to the locker room. The referees called a flagrant foul and ejected White.
"He made a play on the ball and I didn't make a play on the ball," White said. "I made a play on him."
White, a 6-foot-9 senior, said of the incident, "It's not my character at all. I'm a very approachable guy."
LSU Coach Trent Johnson vouched for White's character. Johnson suggested emotional stress played a part. White's grandmother, who raised him, died earlier in January.
If anything, the LSU players were not aggressive enough to suit Johnson.
"I have a bunch of great kids who are going to be good fathers and husbands," Johnson said. "Sometimes that's not all that good between the lines."
White, who averages 3.4 points and 2.0 rebounds, noted how competition can affect behavior.
"Once on the court, you have to be a whole different person," he said. "You have to bring a winning mentality. I was in a do-whatever-it-takes" mentality.
White wrote letters of apology to Davis and UK Coach John Calipari.
"It wasn't like I had to prod him to send the letters," Johnson said. "He knew right away."
Calipari responded in an understanding tone to a "bad decision," White said. "I wish I could take it back."
White found no surprise that the incident did not quickly fade away.
"I knew it was going to hang around," he said, "because of the team and program and player we were playing. I knew we were on national TV."
White saluted Davis as a player, but stopped short of gushing praise.
"He's got a bright future on the next level," White said. "He's a great player."
But White declined to say Davis is the best post player he's faced this season.
"He's probably the most talented young player," he said. "I still see some things Anthony Davis needs to work on. He's just young. He's got improvement to make. But the potential is there."
LSU, which plays Arkansas in Thursday's first round, stood at the brink of an NCAA Tournament bid two weeks ago. The Tigers had a 17-10 record. Then came three straight losses.
"Guys started to sense a little bit of pressure as opposed to just enjoying playing," Johnson said.
LSU lost at Mississippi, at home to Tennessee and at Auburn to finish the season.
"Too much losing is not good for you," Johnson said. "Sometimes too much winning is not good for you."
LSU has had trouble scoring. In the regular-season finale at Auburn, big men Justin Hamilton, Johnny O'Bryant and Storm Warren shot a combined 2-for-19.
Man from hope
Hindered by injuries, most notably losing Marshawn Powell to a torn ACL after two games, Arkansas limped to the finish line. The Hogs lost five of their last six regular-season games.
Still, home attendance increased by an average of more than 2,000.
In noting the progress made, first-year coach Mike Anderson said, "Let me put it this way: There's hope again."
'Wes Unseld Jr.'
In assessing Tennessee's rise through the SEC standings, Johnson made reference to freshman Jarnell Stokes joining the team in early January.
"Then they got Wes Unseld Jr.," the LSU coach said.
Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com