An LSU second-half rally did not beat Kentucky on Tuesday. But perhaps it reminded future opponents of a way to beat Kentucky: Hang in there until intermission, then take advantage of a UK defense that continues to wither in the second half.
LSU made 20 of 32 second-half shots (a blistering 62.5-percent accuracy). The Tigers were even hotter from three-point range (eight of 11).
Those numbers continued a pattern of late. Counting LSU, Kentucky’s last five opponents have made 90 of 153 shots in the second half (58.8-percent accuracy). That includes 21 of 37 from beyond the three-point arc (56.8 percent).
UK Coach John Calipari was at a loss to pinpoint why UK opponents have shot so accurately in these second halves.
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“Maybe (lack of) focus,” he said. “Fatigue. Not getting back. Not talking. I mean, there’s a lot of stuff going on.”
Calipari pointed out that one of UK’s offensive heroes, freshman Wenyen Gabriel, was part of the defensive problem. Gabriel scored a career-high 23 points, but . . .
LSU’s many three-pointers in the second half?
“Hate to tell you,” said Calipari, who cleverly disguised his reluctance to say what followed, “three of them were on Wenyen, ‘Kid, what are you doing? You’re leaving a guy. Tell me what you’re thinking.”
Gabriel explained to reporters. “I was in too far in the paint,” he said, “and wasn’t able to recover to the shooter.”
Gabriel said he expected Calipari to bring up the subject at the three-hour practice the UK coach promised for Wednesday. That would continue a pattern.
On Monday, Calipari said defense would determine UK’s postseason fate.
“If we’re going to be what we need to be, it’s got to start with defense,” he said.
Briscoe the creator
When asked about Gabriel’s career-high 23 points, Calipari credited Isaiah Briscoe. So did Gabriel.
“It wasn’t Wenyen,” Calipari said. “What happened was Isaiah Briscoe created 12 shots and had three hockey assists at halftime. He created three shots (with the pass that set up the assist).
“Now, he only had three assists (in the game) because a bunch of guys missed shots. But he created 12.”
Gabriel linked Briscoe’s playmaking to Calipari re-defining player roles as part of the “re-boot” in UK’s approach.
“One of the main things he told Isaiah Briscoe was to make more creative plays for others,” Gabriel said. “That’s what he was doing. He was looking to find us.”
As for Gabriel’s role, he said, “Ccal told me I’m a finisher. That’s one of the things I’m looking to do offensively.”
Bam touts amnesia
Another recurring issue resurfaced when foul trouble limited Bam Adebayo to 24 minutes.
Calipari seemed especially puzzled by a foul “94 feet from the basket.”
Maybe worse, Adebayo stopped contesting shots around the basket once he got in foul trouble, Calipari said.
When asked about Calipari’s concern about a foul far from the defensive basket, Adebayo said, “He’s going to blow up about a lot of stuff. You’ve just got to have amnesia and move on.”
‘We puke, we puke’
After UK nearly squandered a 25-point lead, Calipari said his impulse was to call a practice after the game.
“I would have them meet me at the gym at 10 o’clock,” he said, “and I would have gone three hours until one in the morning. Until people were puking.”
The current basketball culture frowns upon such a tactic, Calipari said.
Adebayo seemed unfazed about the three-hour practice Calipari said he’d conduct on Wednesday.
“We’ve just got to get through it,” he said. “We’re all going to stick together. You know, we puke, we puke. We’re going to show Cal we’re not quitters.”
Buy-in an issue
Calipari raised the possibility that not every UK player has embraced his coaching.
“First, they have to accept that what they’re doing is good for them individually and good for our team,” the UK coach said. “Not sure we’re quite there yet.”
What he meant, Calipari added, was “then they take great pride in defense. Because they know that’s how you’re going to win, and that’s how we can get out and run. They haven’t done that yet.”
Judging by the Ratings Percentage Index, Kentucky has a relatively tame schedule in the final four weeks of the SEC regular season.
Only two opponents have an RPI in the top 50, and UK plays both in Rupp Arena: No. 37 Tennessee and No. 10 Florida.
Starting with LSU, all but one of Kentucky’s other opponents down the stretch have an RPI in the bottom half of the SEC. The exception is Georgia with an RPI of No. 54, which is sixth best among league teams.
No doubt, Calipari would dismiss RPI as a reliable indicator. UK’s next opponent, Alabama, has the 10th-worst RPI among SEC teams. The Tide won at South Carolina, which has the third-best RPI.