By Joe Cox
Like most of the Big Blue Nation, John Calipari found himself sometimes pleased, and sometimes confused, by his team’s effort in a 92-85 win over LSU at Rupp Arena Tuesday night. Kentucky (19-5, 9-2 in SEC play) never trailed in the win over the Tigers (9-14, 1-10) in the first game after Calipari promised a “reboot” in his weekly press conference. Kentucky had lost three of their last four games, but the outcome on Tuesday was never in doubt.
UK cruised to a 16-point halftime advantage, 43-27, mostly on the strength of a career performance from freshman forward Wenyen Gabriel, who eclipsed his previous career-high of 15 points before the intermission. Kentucky looked good early in the second half, stretching their advantage to 76-51 with just over eight minutes to play. But its defensive intensity wavered, as LSU shot 63 percent in the second half, including 8-for-11 from three-point range. The lead was trimmed to as little as six with 14 seconds to play, before a Malik Monk free throw provided the final margin.
Gabriel ended up with 23 points (including a trio of three-point baskets) and eight rebounds, earning him a loud ovation from the Rupp Arena faithful when he fouled out inside the game’s final minute. Malik Monk came back strong from a poor game at Florida by adding 23 points as well.
Most of Calipari’s praise in his post-game press conference was reserved for Isaiah Briscoe, who had 12 of his 14 points in the second half. Briscoe finished with six rebounds and three assists, but the coach noted that the sophomore guard put himself in position for several more assists, but that his teammates sometimes missed easy shots.
LSU was led by sophomore guard Antonio Blakeney, who finished with 31 points.
After Alabama knocked off South Carolina in four overtimes, Kentucky now finished the night in a three-way deadlock for the lead in the SEC, with the Wildcats, the Gamecocks, and the Florida Gators each sporting a 9-2 league mark—as well as each claiming a 19-5 overall record.
UK’s next game will be Saturday afternoon (1 p.m. on CBS) at Alabama, which is now 7-4 in the SEC. The Wildcats will then return home next Tuesday for a shot at avenging a loss in Knoxville to Tennessee.
With the “reboot” now implemented, Calipari was pragmatic after the game. “I thought you saw what I wanted,” he told the media, “and I thought we did some good stuff.”
Calipari showed his concern over the last eight minutes, commenting that UK “reverted” before admitting, “If I could practice tonight, we would have gone three hours…. until one in the morning until people were puking.”
Fortunately for the Wildcats, the kinder, gentler Calipari won out—so the three-hour practice took place on Wednesday, as Kentucky began preparations for the trip to Tuscaloosa to take on the Crimson Tide.