Just when John Calipari thinks he's righted the ship, Kentucky's same old road woes come back to rear their head.
Johnny O'Bryant III scored a season-high 29 points and grabbed nine rebounds, as the Pete Maravich Assembly Center's court was enveloped by a rollicking sea of purple and gold following LSU's 87-82 upset victory over the No. 11 Kentucky Wildcats on Tuesday, Jan. 28.
From top to bottom, it was a complete defensive collapse for Kentucky. The Tigers consistently broke down the Wildcats' initial contain, getting easy shots near the rim following dribble penetration and winning nearly every 50-50 possession.
Courier-Journal reporter Kyle Tucker has Calipari's take on what went wrong for the Wildcats:
Johnny O’Bryant killed us. We started the game, and I didn’t want to trap. I wanted to see what could happen. That was probably a mistake on my part. We should have trapped from the beginning of the game.
They played the zone. We were tentative. They offensive rebounded, and we didn’t. Alex (Poythress) is the only one going after offensive rebounds. They gated anything Julius (Randle) had. They sent two guys at him. They played good. You have to give them credit. They played well. We don’t have many teams that shoot 50 percent against us like this team did. We are a good defensive team. Not only that, they had 10 offensive rebounds and created 10 turnovers on us. Most of them were in the zone where they had hands in the middle of the zone. They did a great job. You have to give LSU credit.
Four LSU players scored in double figures, highlighted by O'Bryant, who came through with arguably the best performance in his three years at LSU. Dominating down low with his athleticism and toughness, the junior forward grabbed five of the Tigers' 10 offensive rebounds to give himself and teammates second-chance opportunities.
Shavon Coleman had 14 points, nine rebounds and five assists in support of O'Bryant's effort, working in a point-forward role for the Tigers. Jordan Mickey (14 points) and Anthony Hickey (11 points) were the other two starters to hit double digits.
For Kentucky fans, there had to be a creeping sense of deja vu. Each of the Wildcats' five losses have come away from Rupp Arena and have been highlighted by mental miscues and a propensity for digging themselves into holes too big. The Wildcats are now 2-5 away from home, and it was obvious from the opening tip they weren't prepared for the matchup.
O'Bryant hit the game's opening bucket to start a 22-6 run in the first seven minutes, a lead that the Tigers would never relinquish despite some shaky moments. Kentucky went on a run of its own to get within two points and walked into halftime down just 42-36.
But every time the Wildcats started to get into a rhythm, a mental breakdown or clutch LSU shot would quell the momentum before John Calipari's squad could regain its confidence.
The trip to Baton Rouge was an absolute horror show for the UK starters. Julius Randle was overshadowed down low and managed just six points, his worst showing since putting on a Kentucky uniform. Calipari was exasperated with Randle at times for his nondescript performance. He finished just 3-of-11 from the field.
A similar story played itself out for Willie Cauley-Stein, who had three points and six rebounds, making just one of his five shots. James Young's team-high 23 points were one of the few bright spots for Kentucky's starting five, which got far better production from its bench.
Left without answers, Calipari resorted to going long stretches with Dakari Johnson and Alex Poythress over his starters. The backups acquitted themselves far better, with Johnson scoring a career-high 15 points and grabbing six rebounds. Poythress, one of the Wildcats' more enigmatic talents, scored 10 on 4-of-8 shooting while tying Young with a team-high seven rebounds.
More than anything, though, it was the defensive lapses that will probably keep the Kentucky coach up at night. The Wildcats were out-hustled, outsmarted and arguably out-coached, as nothing Calipari threw at O'Bryant and Co. seemed to work.
LSU opened the second half by making each of its first two shots, extending the lead back to double-digits, where it stayed for most of the final 20 minutes. O'Bryant had success crashing the offensive boards and had a consistent stroke on his mid-range jumper the entire night. The lead stretched as high as 15 points, before a late barrage of threes from Aaron Harrison brought the game back to respectability.
Harrison's final three with 15 seconds remaining gave the Wildcats a glimmer of hope down 87-82, but in a microcosm of their entire evening, they failed to commit a foul and send LSU to the line.
It will be interesting to see how Calipari goes about fixing his team's efforts on the road. The Wildcats' trip to Baton Rouge started a stretch of four road games in five, all of which seemed winnable just a few days ago. But as pointed out by CBS Sports' Gary Parrish, nothing is guaranteed at this point with Kentucky:
Kentucky now has four losses to teams ranked outside of the top 50 of the RPI. No other ranked team has more than two.— Gary Parrish (@GaryParrishCBS) January 29, 2014
Kentucky needs to hope the return of its road struggles were a one-time blip. The Wildcats travel to Columbia on Saturday for a matchup against Missouri. LSU, meanwhile, seems like a good bet to continue its winning ways when Arkansas comes to town the same afternoon. The Razorbacks are just 2-5 in SEC play.
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