ATLANTA — After Kentucky beat LSU in overtime last month, Anthony Hickey stood in a tunnel area outside the Rupp Arena court and made a wish. He asked — in quiet, measured tones — for another chance to play the Cats this season.
"I'm glad things worked out for us," Hickey said after LSU beat Alabama 68-56 Thursday night in the Southeastern Conference Tournament. Again, Hickey spoke matter-of-factly, but with noticeable restraint, about the Tigers advancing to a quarterfinal game against Kentucky Friday night.
But teammate Johnny O'Bryant III betrayed Hickey. The little man from Hopkinsville will bring passionate willpower against UK.
"Oh man, it means a lot," O'Bryant said of Hickey's feelings. "... He said Kentucky didn't even say a word to him. He definitely probably wants to make them pay every time we play them."
Hickey probably definitely tried to diplomatically sidestep any question about revenge. No doubt it helped smooth any hurt feelings that UK Coach John Calipari pulled him aside after last season's game and acknowledged the mistake in not recruiting the Kentucky Mr. Basketball.
Hickey, who LSU lists at only 5-foot-11, sounded eager to compete against Kentucky's latest group of ballyhooed freshmen rather than prove something to Calipari.
"Get to compete against Cal and his guys," Hickey said. "I love it. I love to compete."
As with most young people growing up in Kentucky, Hickey wanted to play for UK. He recalled often going to a Christian County High School teammate's house to watch the Cats.
"Jodie Meeks, (Patrick) Sparks, he was playing back in the day," Hickey said. "Tubby Smith was coach. I loved it. You love the tradition they've got. You want to be on that floor. It's everything."
Hickey said he did not harbor any ill feeling toward Kentucky. "Part of recruiting," he said of having to look elsewhere for a college program.
"I love it even more just competing against Calipari's guys. It makes the game more fun, I guess. You get overlooked sometimes. I wasn't really highly recruited. I wasn't 5-star or anything."
Hickey has played like a star, however many you want to assign, against Kentucky. In 173 career minutes, he's committed only two turnovers.
"I just try to be solid," he said of that astounding statistic. "Try not to do too much. Try to make the correct play."
Hickey, who recalled being a "4-star or maybe 3-star recruit," is one reason why LSU matches up well against Kentucky. In Jordan Mickey, Jarell Martin and O'Bryant, the Tigers have the size to stand up against Kentucky, which can depend heavily on offensive rebounding. Plus, LSU guards are quicker than UK's perimeter players.
"That's definitely right," O'Bryant said when asked about LSU matching up well against Kentucky. "Kentucky has a lot of talented freshmen. I think people often times forget our freshmen are really good.
"We're definitely evenly-matched teams as far as talent-wise. It's going to be all about effort tomorrow. Who can win the 50/50 balls and the rebound war."
UK's chief warrior, Julius Randle, has not dominated LSU. None of his 18 double-doubles came against the Tigers. He made six of 19 shots in the two LSU games, scoring six and eight points.
Of course, two of Randle's points won the game in Rupp Arena. His putback in the final seconds gave Kentucky a 77-76 overtime victory.
"Just a great hustle play," O'Bryant said. "He never quit on the play."
After the game, Randle thanked the basketball gods for guiding a loose ball into his hands near the basket. It's a game-winner that returns to Hickey's mind often.
"The ball bounced his way, right to him of all places," Hickey said of Randle. "But he's got a great feel for where the ball's going to be.
"He has a bright future."
Hickey and LSU just hope the immediate future is not so bright for Randle and Kentucky.