BATON ROUGE, La. — You'd think John Calipari would be getting too old to pull off such moves. Tuesday was his birthday, after all. The man turned 56. He's got a new hip. He's liable to pull a muscle or something.
And yet there were no better dance moves at Sunday night's Grammys than the gyrations the Kentucky coach pulled off on the sideline in the second half of his team's thrilling 71-69 win over LSU on Tuesday night at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
Karl-Anthony Towns had just been called for a technical foul for doing a chin-up on the rim with 10:39 remaining. That earned Towns a seat on the bench and ears that burned. The Cats led 60-52. LSU grabbed hold, however, and rode the technical like a crashing wave full of momentum. LSU baskets followed LSU baskets. Sixteen straight points the Tigers scored.
And as LSU started stringing together hoops, Calipari turned to his freshman sitting on the bench and made exaggerated power moves like he was happy the home team scored, like "Go, Tigers, go."
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"Looked like an idiot on the sideline," the coach admitted afterward.
Not that he was sorry. No sir. This was a teachable moment. Towns had played great all night, but he's a kid — a big lovable kid — and as a kid he had made an immature mistake. Calipari was determined to make him know that. In Cal's style, the coach went over the top. But, hey, that's Calipari. He's doing the same thing at 56 he did at 26.
"I told him I hope we lose," said the coach.
Kentucky didn't lose. Down 66-60 with 7:29 left, the nation's No. 1-ranked team gathered itself. The Cats calmed down. Towns contributed monster plays down the stretch, including a perfect hook shot that put the Cats ahead 70-69 with 1:30 remaining.
When it was over, when UK was 24-0 — the train keeps rolling — and you thought what you think so many times about Calipari: There's a method to the guy's madness.
This promised to be a tough game and it more than lived up to the billing. What LSU lacked in depth it boasted in size with talent. Not many teams boast a tandem like Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin. Except Kentucky, of course. The Cats have more.
The "Deaf Dome" was a sellout, the first hard sellout since 2006. T-shirts were handed out. Every seat was filled. LSU fed off the early energy to land the first punch. With less than six minutes gone by, LSU led 14-6.
Kentucky's been through this before, however. Try three days ago at Florida. Crazy crowd. Pumped-up team. Bull's-eye on the back. Last year in this very same venue, UK fell behind 22-6 and lost. This year, it fell behind early and rallied.
That's the thing about this team. On the one hand, it's much more mature than a year ago. Andrew Harrison and Aaron Harrison are sophomores. Willie Cauley-Stein is a junior. They've been through the wars. They have the scars.
On the other hand, as Calipari points out, "We're the fifth youngest team in the country." Youngsters fueled the comeback. Freshman Devin Booker hit big shots in the first half. Towns made plays, tough plays around the basket.
That continued in the second half. Andrew Harrison, who scored all of one point at Florida, got his game going. Towns kept contributing. You could see LSU's legs starting to wobble. Ten minutes left, Kentucky was up by 10.
Then, just as kids do dumb things, Towns did a dumb thing. Calipari wanted him to know just how dumb.
"Now I doubt ever in his life will he chin up on a basket ever again," said the coach, who added, "Don't get me wrong, I love the kid."
Truth be told, we didn't know whether Calipari could still do those sideline gyrations, either. The man could hurt himself. Seriously.
"I've been working out," he said.
In the end, it all worked out. In the most exciting game of Kentucky's season, the Cats got the win and the birthday boy made his point. Not a bad way to turn 56.