JOE COX: Unreviewable Error Leads to Unbelievable Defeat for UK
When Kentucky and LSU meet, there are big names that belong in the pantheon of game changers: Issel, Maravich, Mashburn, O’Neal.
Tuesday night, in the 19th-ranked Tigers’ controversial 73-71 win in Lexington over the fifth-ranked Wildcats, it was Joe Lindsay, Tony Greene, and Patrick Evans. Unfortunately, those weren’t adept Tiger shooters or tenacious Wildcat rebounders. They were the officials.
There is no way to gild this particular lily. LSU played well—making 19 of 22 free throws, shooting 52 percent in the second half, and keeping Kentucky out of its offensive rhythm. UK also showed some March mettle, with forward PJ Washington managing 20 points and nine rebounds, and freshman guard Keldon Johnson making a pair of pressure-packed free throws to tie the game at 71 with six seconds remaining.
And then, all Hell broke loose.
On the game’s final possession, LSU guard Skylar Mays drove down the left side of the floor and took a desperate, driving shot. Some have noted that UK freshman forward EJ Montgomery had his hand inside the rim when Mays took the shot, which may or may not have constituted defensive basket interference, more commonly known as goal-tending. In any case, Montgomery had his hand safety out of the way by the time Mays’ shot knicked off the basket and was bouncing on the right side of the rim when LSU forward Kavell Bigby-Williams tipped the ball in just ahead of the final buzzer. That play almost certainly WAS basket interference. The violation going uncalled, the LSU bench broke out into a small celebration, which was halted while officials went to the TV monitor to review the final proceedings.
However, Lindsay, Greene, and Evans, who watched Bigby-Williams’ impressive rebound without bothering to call him for basket interference, could only review the clock, which the LSU big man had certainly beat with his tip-in. Ballgame to LSU, and Lindsay, Greene, and Evans hustled up the Rupp Arena tunnel in the quickest get-away Kentucky has seen since the James gang were in town back in the 19th century.
An incredulous John Calipari noted after the game, when discussing the apparent inability of Lindsay, Greene, and Evans to rectify a clear miscall, “We’re like Wilt Chamberlain; we change rules. I don’t know.”
Calipari’s comments referenced the infamous shot-clock issue in the 2015 Final Four game against Wisconsin, the review of which was then similarly outside the scope of the NCAA’s replay rule. Perhaps in future seasons, the NCAA will again expand or define the correctible calls to prevent such an outcome as Tuesday night saw.
No one knows what Lindsay, Greene, or Evans thought, because the SEC’s apparent media policy for officials is a non-policy. Kyle Tucker of The Athletic confirmed that he was told the officials would not be available to take any questions. Losing coaches and players, of course, get no such protection.
The brouhaha over the final play sullied an otherwise excellent game. Kentucky led for over 28 minutes of the contest, holding a 40-32 advantage at halftime. The Wildcats held LSU to 33 percent shooting in the opening half, and won the battle on the backboard 23-14. Kentucky extended its lead to nine points just over a minute into the second half, but the Wildcats shot just 37 percent in the second half, and LSU crept closer and then pulled ahead. The Tigers’ largest lead was five points with 2:14 to play in the game, before Kentucky battled back to force the dramatic conclusion.
LSU had four double-digit scorers, led by likely All-SEC guard Tremont Waters, who had 15 points, five assists, and three steals. The other Tigers in double figures were reserve forward Emmitt Williams with a dozen points, starting forward Naz Reid also with a dozen, and guard Skylar Mays, who had 11 points.
Kentucky was led by Washington, whose 20 points carried the Wildcats down the game’s stretch. Washington was sidelined for a time with his fourth foul, and played only 27 minutes. Kentucky also placed Johnson (16 points) and Tyler Herro (12 points) in double figures. The Wildcat bench struggled, totaling only 10 points, with six of those coming from freshman E.J. Montgomery, who also added five rebounds in thirteen minutes. Freshman guards Ashton Hagans and Immanueal Quickley both struggled, finishing with two assists and three turnovers and shooting a combined 3 for 10.
Kentucky’s next matchup comes Saturday in Lexington against the top-ranked Tennessee Volunteers. UT plays South Carolina on Wednesday night, which seems unlikely to be much of a challenge. If Kentucky hopes to salvage what Calipari has called “the toughest week of the season,” the Wildcats will have to bring their A game.