Sidelines with John Clay

Three takeaways from Kentucky basketball’s controversial loss to LSU

Three takeaways from Kentucky’s last-second and controversial 73-71 loss to LSU on Tuesday night at Rupp Arena:

1. Time to review what’s reviewable

By now, you know what happened. With the game tied at 71-71 after UK’s Keldon Johnson made two free throws with exactly six seconds remaining, LSU rushed the ball up the floor with junior guard Skylar Mays taking the ball all the way to the basket. Mays missed, but teammate Kavell Bigby-Williams appeared to tip the ball inside the cylinder for what the officials ruled to be the winning basket at the buzzer.

Then there was a review at the monitor. But instead of reviewing whether offensive goaltending had occurred, head official Joe Lindsay was reviewing whether the tip beat the clock. It did. And the goaltend is a judgment call that cannot be reviewed. At least for now.

“Remember we lost in the (2015) Final Four when there was a goal(tend), a shot clock violation,” said UK Coach John Calipari, referring back to the then-undefeated Cats’ loss to Wisconsin in the national semifinal when a goaltend appeared to have been missed on a possession that ended up as a turnover for a shot clock violation. “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 and it’s easy to go check?’

“Well this one (is) easy to go check. Just go check it. Why would you not — why should that not be reviewable? So we’re like Wilt Chamberlain; we change the rules. I don’t know.”

(For our younger readers, Wilt Chamberlain was a great 7-foot scorer in the 1950s and ‘60s that caused several rule changes when some thought his size gave him too much of an advantage.)

Calipari was quick to say, controversial end or not, LSU deserved to win. And PJ Washington, who led the Cats with 20 points, said UK should have never put itself in that position. Breakdowns over the final minutes cost the Cats, said Washington. (More on that later.)

But perhaps the final play Tuesday will spark a debate similar to the one in the NFC Championship Game when what appeared to be obvious pass interference by Los Angeles Rams’ defensive back Nickell Robey-Coleman against New Orleans Saints’ receiver Tommylee Lewis went uncalled in what was ultimately the Rams’ overtime victory.

Since then, there has been a push to make such judgment calls subject to instant replay reviews. Maybe the same thing will happen with Tuesday night’s play.

2. The glass was indeed the difference

Hey, I got one right. That doesn’t normally happen. For Monday’s column, I wrote that the winner of this particular Kentucky-LSU battle would come down with team rebounds the best, especially on the offensive glass. After all, UK entered the game with the nation’s fourth-best offensive rebound percentage (38.3) while LSU ranked ninth (37.3) in that same category.

In the first half Tuesday, Kentucky outrebounded the visitors 23-14. Score at halftime: UK led 40-32. Second half, LSU outrebounded Kentucky 18-16. Second half score: LSU 41, Kentucky 31. And indeed the biggest difference was the offensive glass.

Remember, in its 83-78 win over visiting Auburn last Saturday, Will Wade’s club dominated Bruce Pearl’s team 29-1 in second-chance points. First half Tuesday, LSU did not score a single second-chance point against the Cats. (UK had eight second-chance points). In the second half, the Tigers scored 12 second-chance points — including that controversial final tip-in — compared to nine for Kentucky.

Besides Bigby-Williams’ final basket, one particular LSU second-chance basket stood out. Up 67-64 with about 2:20 remaining, Mays missed a three-pointer. Teammate Javonte Smart hustled to keep the ball alive. It ended up in the hands of Naz Reid, who scored a quick basket to extend the Tigers’ lead to 69-64 with 2:13 remaining.

“They’re a really good team and they played well,” said Washington of LSU. “We allowed them to get offensive rebounds. We felt like that was the biggest thing coming into this game, not to let them get offensive rebounds. The last five minutes, that’s all they were doing. We felt like that’s on us.”

3. Tuesday takes just a little of the shine off Saturday

Kentucky-Tennessee at Rupp Arena on Saturday is still a huge game. The Vols are still the No. 1-ranked team in the nation. Despite the loss, UK is still ranked No. 5. That won’t change until Monday’s new poll. Tennessee takes a 10-0 SEC record into its game Wednesday night against South Carolina. UK is now 9-2 in the league.

But this is not a two-team conference. LSU made that statement on Tuesday. The Tigers are now 20-4 overall and 10-1 in the SEC. Their lone conference loss was by one point at home to Arkansas. A team that has fallen behind in several games and found a way to win, Wade’s club fought back from a nine-point deficit early in the second half to get the victory against the No. 5 team in the nation on its home floor.

I don’t think Kentucky got caught looking ahead, nor do I think the loss diminishes UK’s standing all that much. LSU is a well-coached, athletic team that will cause match-up problems for plenty of clubs come March. Good point guard play, good foul shooting — Tremont Waters was 8-of-8 from the line on the way to 15 points as LSU went 19-of-22 from the foul line — will win you a lot of games.

But if Kentucky has any chance of getting back in the hunt for a No. 1 seed, the Cats have to beat Tennessee on Saturday at 8 p.m. on ESPN. Tuesday’s loss makes Saturday’s matchup even more important in that regard.

Someone asked Washington if UK will be a (mad) team on Saturday?

“I know it will,” he said. “We felt like we should have won that game and we didn’t make the plays to win that game at the end of the game. We’re looking to bounce back Saturday.”

Kentucky basketball 2018-19

11/9/18So Illinois71-59W
11/14/18North Dakota96-58W
11/23/18Tennessee St77-62W
12/8/18vsSeton Hall83-84L*
12/22/18vsN Carolina80-72W
1/8/19Texas A&M85-74W
1/15/19@Georgia69-49 W
1/19/19@Auburn82-80 W
1/22/19Miss State76-55W
2/5/19S Carolina76-48 W
2/9/19@Miss State71-67W





3/5/19@Ole Miss


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John Clay is a sports columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader. A native of Central Kentucky, he covered UK football from 1987 until being named sports columnist in 2000. He has covered 20 Final Fours and 37 consecutive Kentucky Derbys.
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