To a list of memorable Kentucky defeats headed by Christian Laettner (1992) and Texas Western (1966), you can add LSU’s 73-71 victory Tuesday night.
The stakes weren’t nearly as high as those historic UK defeats, but Kavell Bigby-Williams’ tip-in at the buzzer did give LSU only its second victory at Kentucky since 1989. Or did it?
Replays suggested the ball was still in the cylinder when Bigby-Williams guided it home. But Rule 11, Section 1, Article 4 dictates that a review cannot be used for a judgment call like goaltending.
This caused UK Coach John Calipari to recall another painful defeat rife with a legitimate reason to launch an appeal that, alas, no one will hear. He referenced Nigel Hayes making a shot after the shot clock expired with about four minutes left in the second half against UK in the 2015 Final Four. Rules at the time limited sideline monitor reviews of shot-clock violations to the final two minutes.
“Do you remember we lost in the Final Four when there was a goal (after) a shot clock violation?” Calipari asked reporters in his post-game news conference. “And they said it was not reviewable, and then they changed the rule to say, why would you want to lose a game on a shot clock violation (when) it’s easy to go check?”
Such a check is not permissible for Bigby-Williams’ tip-in. But Calipari pointedly suggested another example of delayed justice might be at hand.
“So we’re like Wilt Chamberlain,” he said in reference to a 7-footer so dominant 50 years ago that rules were altered to check his impact. “We change rules.”
The tip-in was only the second basket of the game for Bigby-Williams, a native of London, England, and a transfer from Oregon.
“I didn’t know if he was good or it was a goaltend,” he said of his immediate reaction. “I didn’t know for sure.”
Bigby-Williams said he saw a replay. When asked what he thought the replay revealed, he smiled and said, “It was good to me.”
The tip-in came after Keldon Johnson tied the score at 71-71 with two free throws. Only six seconds remained.
With UK denying the ball to LSU’s star point guard, Tremont Waters, that task of taking a potentially game-winning shot fell to junior Skylar Mays. He drove the left side and lofted a shot high off the glass. With the intention of making the shot, not just getting it on the rim, he said.
Waters noted that Reid Travis, PJ Washington and Johnson all contested the shot. “Those are guys with length,” he said. “So he had to get it up high on the backboard. And Kavell was right there. That’s pretty much what you want in that situation. Put it up on the glass and have our ‘bigs’ have that instinct.”
When the referees went to the sideline monitor, Waters said he put his faith in divine justice. The referees were looking to see if any time remained in the game. They ruled time had expired.
“I leave everything in God’s hands,” Waters said.
Did God miss a goaltend call?
“It’s negative,” Waters said of this suggestion. “I don’t like negativity. So I’m going to shy away from that comment.
“I don’t think it was a goaltend. The replay showed the ball off the rim. And he was right there at the right time.”
While replays seemed to show the ball was off the rim, the ball appeared to be still in the cylinder.
LSU moved into sole possession of second place in the Southeastern Conference at 10-1. The Tigers improved to 20-4 overall.
Kentucky fell to 20-4 overall and third place in the SEC at 9-2.
“You hate for it to come down to the last play,” Calipari said. “But that happens sometimes. You hate that the play becomes questionable. But I will say that it should not take away from what LSU did. They beat us.”
The game saw not one, but two familiar scenarios repeat themselves. LSU fell behind (this time by nine with less than 17 minutes left), then rallied.
“Man, I can’t explain it,” Mays said. “I think it shows we have a lot of fight.”
Kentucky saw another lead dwindle, then did a lot of fighting itself.
For Bigby-Williams, the game-winning tip will be a long-lasting memory.
When rating his personal highlights, the tip-in was “definitely up there for sure,” he said. “At Rupp Arena. So much history and historic stuff to it. It’s something that will share with me the rest of my life.”
For Kentucky, Reid Travis suggested a magnanimous reaction.
“We do ourselves a disservice to get hung up on one call,” Travis said. “We made a lot of mistakes down the stretch. It shouldn’t have come down to that.”
No. 1 Tennessee at No. 5 Kentucky
8 p.m. Saturday (ESPN)