With a taut, possession-by-possession game magnifying every misstep, Louisiana State put its fate in the hands of two probable all-conference players: Tasmin Mitchell and Marcus Thornton.
Score tied. Clock inside the final 10 seconds. Mitchell set a screen for Thornton. Either eminently qualified to make the winning shot.
"It's not Coaching 101," LSU first-year coach Trent Johnson said. "It's shut your mouth, Coach, and get out of the way. That's what that is."
Kentucky defended Mitchell and Thornton with Kevin Galloway and A.J. Stewart, neither averaging 10 minutes per Southeastern Conference game.
Both defenders went with Thornton as he went by Mitchell's screen. Thornton then passed back to an open Mitchell near the top of the key.
When Mitchell rattled in a three-pointer with 9.8 seconds left, it gave LSU a 73-70 victory over Kentucky on Saturday afternoon in Rupp Arena.
Flunking this not-ready-for-Coaching 101 play left UK with more reason to worry about being expelled from this year's NCAA Tournament.
"It was a play designed for Marcus to have a wide-open shot," Mitchell said. "But Marcus said, 'When you screen, they are going to help on me. So you pop (open).'
"And that's exactly what I did."
While LSU anticipated Kentucky's reaction and plotted a counter-measure, confusion reigned for the Cats.
UK Coach Billy Gillispie blamed himself while also heaping responsibility for the loss on one player he did not name.
"If I don't play one guy in the second half, we probably win," Gillispie said. "My fault."
Replays showed Galloway guarding Thornton. Mitchell never got his body on Stewart for the screen. Galloway and Stewart went with Thornton, who scored 19 of his team-high 23 points in the second half.
Galloway blamed himself for not switching onto Mitchell.
"I was supposed to switch, but I forgot," he said. "I got caught up in the emotion. I just wanted to guard the ball. ... I think I just blanked out and I just zoned out and blanked out and was trying to stop my man from scoring."
Kentucky, which fell to 19-10 overall and 8-6 in the Southeastern Conference, got a potentially tying shot off. But Jodie Meeks missed a rushed three-pointer badly, thus ending a 1-for-9 game from beyond the arc.
Because Meeks ended up on the floor, fans screamed in protest of the non-call. But Meeks offered no complaint.
"There was a little bit of contact," he said of LSU's defensive ace, Garrett Temple, contesting the shot. "I wasn't expecting a call."
Thus ended the most exciting game in Rupp Arena this season. LSU, the regular-season SEC champion, won at UK for the first time since 1989. The Tigers improved to 25-4 overall and 13-1 in the league.
A game of comebacks, Kentucky trailed 70-66 inside the final 40 seconds. Freshman Darius Miller's three-pointer tied it with 27.1 seconds left. That set up the winning shot which followed a familiar pattern. For much of the final five minutes or so, LSU freed up shooters with a pick-and-roll play.
"I thought at least Kentucky would have learned how to defend it, to send a man to hedge or do whatever," LSU point guard Bo Spencer said. "But it seemed they weren't executing. Actually, Coach Gillispie was telling them how to, and they weren't completing the task. They just couldn't."
Mitchell, who started LSU's rally from a 10-point second-half deficit with a post-up basket, scored 21 points. Spencer, who hit a three-pointer from the left corner inside the final 90 seconds off another pick-and-roll, had 16.
Patrick Patterson led Kentucky with 28 points. Meeks added 24. No other UK player reached double figures.
Kentucky followed orders in the first half by working inside-out, as reflected in only three three-point shots in the first 14 minutes.
But that changed down the stretch.
"When we really needed to have the kind of composure it takes to win close games against a really good team, we took some bad shots and forgot about Patrick," Gillispie said.
Mitchell, who scored 14 first-half points, helped LSU take a 36-28 halftime lead.
Spencer contributed nine first-half points, including three three-pointers. He'd shot 0-for-3 in the last game (and 1-for-6 in the last two) since returning from a sprained ankle.
Kentucky showed second-half adjustments before the final 20 minutes began. Galloway, who played only four minutes in the first half, started as the point guard. Presumably, his task was to contain Spencer.
The Cats took their first lead when Miller hit a three-pointer with 14:13 left. His first shot of the game put the Cats ahead 43-42.
UK's lead crested on a Perry Stevenson post-up basket that made it 54-44 with 11:07 left.
"I felt real good," Patterson said. "I thought we had the game in our hands. We had control. I thought we'd keep the train rolling."
As Gillispie suggested on Friday, LSU (which started three seniors and Mitchell, a fourth-year junior) does not crack.