Mark Story

How Kentucky and LSU match up — with a game prediction

UK’s double-doubles guy loves being double-teamed

Kentucky forward PJ Washington says he likes when the other team defends him with two players. The sophomore has posted double-doubles in each of UK’s last three games. The Wildcats play host to South Carolina on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019.
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Kentucky forward PJ Washington says he likes when the other team defends him with two players. The sophomore has posted double-doubles in each of UK’s last three games. The Wildcats play host to South Carolina on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019.

How No. 5 Kentucky (20-3, 9-1 SEC) and No. 19 LSU (19-4, 9-1 SEC) match up at each position — with a game prediction:

Small forward

Since going scoreless in Kentucky’s win at Georgia, Keldon Johnson has averaged 12.4 points and made 44 percent of his three-point attempts in the following seven games. The 6-foot-6, 211-pound freshman (13.9 points, 5.3 rebounds on the season) played well in UK’s 71-67 win at Mississippi State on Saturday with 13 points and seven rebounds.

LSU’s Marlon Taylor is a 6-5, 210-pound junior-college transfer recruited to provide size at the wing position. The Mount Vernon, N.Y., product (7 points, 3.7 rebounds, 47.4 percent FGs, 29.7 percent treys) has started the past 13 games and has played well on the SEC road. Taylor had 21 points and seven rebounds at Arkansas and 12 points and five boards at Mississippi.

Advantage: Kentucky

Keldon Johnson
Kentucky swingman Keldon Johnson (3) is the Wildcats’ second-leading scorer (13.9 points) and third-leading rebounder (5.3). Alex Slitz

Power forward

If Kentucky’s PJ Washington (14.2 points, 8.0 rebounds for season) had played all year like he has in the past six games, he would be a National Player of the Year contender. Since Jan. 22, the 6-8, 228-pound sophomore has averaged 20.8 points and 8.5 rebounds and made 55 percent of his three-point attempts. In UK’s 74-71 win at LSU last season, Washington had 18 points and six rebounds.

LSU’s Naz Reid is coming off a monster week that earned him SEC Freshman of the Week honors. In the Tigers’ 92-88 overtime win at Mississippi State last Wednesday, the 6-10, 250-pound product of Asbury Park, N.J., had 29 points and nine rebounds and hit the game-clinching three-pointer. In LSU’s 83-78 victory over Auburn on Saturday, Reid (13.9 points, 6.3 rebounds, 49.8 percent FGs) produced a double-double (13 points, 11 rebounds).

Advantage: Kentucky

Naz Reid.JPG
LSU forward Naz Reid (0) had 13 points and 10 rebounds in the Tigers’ 83-78 win over Auburn Saturday. BILL FEIG AP


Kentucky’s Reid Travis has had a tough time scoring against SEC foes. In nine league games, the graduate transfer from Stanford has scored in double figures three times and is averaging 8.6 points while shooting 44.8 percent. For the season, the 6-8, 238-pound Minneapolis product is averaging 11.7 points and 7 rebounds.

LSU’s Kavell Bigby-Williams is a rim protector. The 6-11, 250-pound senior from London, England, has blocked 44 shots this season. Bigby-Williams (7.8 points, 5.9 rebounds, 69.3 percent FGs) swatted nine shots vs. Grambling, and blocked five shots each vs. Alabama and Mississippi. A transfer from Oregon, Bigby-Williams was a reserve on the Ducks’ 2017 Final Four team.

Advantage: Kentucky

Reid Travis
Kentucky’s Reid Travis (22) had eight points and a game-high eight rebounds in UK’s 71-67 win at Mississippi State on Saturday. Charles Bertram

Shooting guard

Kentucky’s Tyler Herro had 12 points in UK’s win at Mississippi State and hit a clutch three-point jumper late in the shot clock with only 2:58 left in the game. The 6-5, 195-pound Milwaukee product is turning in a rock-solid freshman season, averaging 13.3 points and 4.2 rebounds and standing second on the UK team in assists (50) and steals (24).

LSU’s Skylar Mays could have a point to prove to Kentucky. In LSU’s loss to UK a season ago, Mays struggled — 2-for-11 field goals, five points. That performance was unusual for the 6-4, 200-pound Baton Rouge, La., product. This season as a junior, Mays is averaging 13.4 points and 3.1 rebounds and is third on the Tigers in assists (52) and second in steals (47).

Advantage: Even

Mississippi State basketball coach Ben Howland talks to the media after the Bulldogs’ 71-67 loss to Kentucky on Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019. Tyler Herro hit a three-pointer late in the shot clock with 2:58 left to help the Wildcats to the win.

Point guard

Since his 23-point outburst against home-state Georgia, Kentucky’s Ashton Hagans has made only 16 of 39 shots in the following seven games. The 6-3, 192-pound Cartersville, Ga., product played well in UK’s win at Mississippi State with eight points and nine assists. Overall, the freshman is averaging 7.3 points and 2.4 rebounds and leads Kentucky in assists (104) and steals (51).

LSU’s Tremont Waters is the reigning SEC Player of the Week after averaging 22.5 points, 7.5 assists, 5.0 steals and 3.5 rebounds in last week’s wins over Mississippi State and Auburn. The 5-11, 175-pound sophomore from New Haven, Conn., leads LSU in scoring (15.7 points), assists (6.1) and steals (3.1). Last season, Waters had a double-double in LSU’s loss to Kentucky, 18 points and 11 rebounds.

Advantage: LSU

Tremont Waters
LSU point guard Tremont Waters (3) had 18 points, 11 rebounds, three assists and two steals in the Tigers’ 74-71 loss to Kentucky last season. Alex Slitz


Kentucky’s EJ Montgomery is becoming UK’s “X factor.” The 6-10, 225-pound freshman had 11 points and 13 rebounds in last week’s victory over South Carolina and seven boards in 16 minutes at Mississippi State. Wing Jemarl Baker had three points, an assist and a steal in 12 minutes in Starkville; but the redshirt freshman has yet to dial in his outside shot (34.3 percent FGs, 32.1 percent treys). Point guard Immanuel Quickley is also in a shooting funk, having made six of 28 field goals over the past eight games. Big man Nick Richards (3.5 points, 3.1 rebounds, team-high 33 total blocks) could be important against LSU’s front line.

LSU freshman Javonte Smart was the No. 32-ranked prospect in the 2018 Rivals 150. The 6-4 point guard from Baton Rouge (10.2 points, 3.2 rebounds, 53 total assists) has started 13 games. Freshman power forward Emmitt Williams (7.8 points, 5.8 rebounds) scored 44 points in the 2018 Jordan Brand Classic. Darius Days, a 6-6, 225-pound freshman forward, averages 5.4 points and 4.3 rebounds.

Advantage: Even

Javonte Smart
LSU guard Javonte Smart played for the Team USA U17 squad as a high schooler. Smart had a rugged game in the Tigers’ 83-78 win over Auburn Saturday, shooting 1-for-10 from the field en route to three points. USA Basketball

Intangibles and history

Kentucky leads the all-time series with LSU 89-26. In the John Calipari-coaching era, UK is 11-2 vs. LSU with both defeats in Baton Rouge.

Second-year LSU head man Will Wade is 0-1 vs. UK, having lost to the Wildcats 74-71 last season in Baton Rouge. The Tigers have not won in Rupp Arena since a 73-70 victory over the Billy Gillispie-coached Cats on Feb. 28, 2009.

Kentucky has won 10 games in a row and 13 out of 14. LSU has won 12 out of its previous 13.

Advantage: Kentucky

Billy Gillispie was the Kentucky head coach the last time LSU beat the Wildcats in Rupp Arena. Charles Bertram


Kentucky 77, LSU 70


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Mark Story has worked in the Lexington Herald-Leader sports department since Aug. 27, 1990, and has been a Herald-Leader sports columnist since 2001. I have covered every Kentucky-Louisville football game since 1994, every UK-U of L basketball game but three since 1996-97 and every Kentucky Derby since 1994.