Kentucky struggles to stop O'Bryant III as LSU upsets 11th-ranked Wildcats, 87-82
BATON ROUGE, La. – John Calipari couldn't get out of LSU's Pete Maravich Assembly Center fast enough.
The inhospitable winter weather and icy roads in normally balmy Baton Rouge were preferable to what he saw his No. 11 Kentucky team do on the court.
The Wildcats dug themselves an early 16-point hole and never quite recovered, trailing wire-to-wire in an 87-82 loss to the Tigers on Tuesday night.
"When the other team outworks you, this is what it looks like," Calipari said. "It was amazing we were in the game. We got down 16; it could have been 30.
"This team is in progress," Calipari continued. "The process we are at right now is, will we have the mental toughness to break through and be the kind of team we want to be?"
Johnny O'Bryant III scored 29 points and grabbed nine rebounds for LSU, (13-6, 4-3 SEC), which put on a show for an estimated 6,000-plus fans who made it to the game despite the unusual weather.
"I really tried to attack them," the 6-foot-9, 256-pound O'Bryant said. "I knew that they were young guys and I had an advantage in experience and body-wise. I was going at them all night."
James Young scored 23 points and Dakari Johnson had 15 for Kentucky (15-5, 5-2), which has seen all five of its losses come away from home, including two straight road losses in the Southeastern Conference.
Aaron Harrison had 14 points and Alex Poythress added 10 for the Wildcats, who have to go right back on the road Saturday at Missouri.
Jordan Mickey scored 14 points and blocked five shots for the Tigers, who blocked 11 shots and helped force 13 Kentucky turnovers.
Shavon Coleman added 14 points for the Tigers, who outshot the Wildcats 51 percent (32 of 63) to 44 percent (32 of 73).
"You have to give them credit. They played well," Calipari said of LSU. "We don't have too many teams that shoot 50 percent against us like this team did. We are a good defensive team."
While Kentucky is usually one of the biggest draws of any basketball season at LSU, south Louisiana was blasted by freezing rain which forced the closure of numerous bridges and long, elevated sections of Interstate 10 on both sides of Baton Rouge.
The result was a half-empty arena that belied the paid attendance of 12,124. The student sections, however, were jammed from first row courtside to the last row near the stadium's domed roof. Classes had been cancelled, and perhaps as an antidote to cabin fever, the students showed up energized, and it appeared contagious.
"The energy was in the building," LSU coach Johnny Jones said. "I thought we had a great chance of playing well."
The Tigers started fast, making nine of their first 12 shots and led 22-6 after Mickey's free throws. Kentucky, by contrast, made only four of its first 12 shots and turned the ball over five times in the first 5 minutes.
LSU "was just playing harder than us. They were hitting a lot of shots, a lot of open 3s," Johnson said. "They just broke us down a lot defensively."
O'Bryant set the tone with 15 first-half points on 6of 9 shooting. Jones praised the way O'Bryant balanced his shot selection from both inside and out, and the patience he showed against double-teams.
The Tigers led by six at halftime, but opened the second half with Jarell Martin's layup and Mickey's jumper to push their lead back to double digits. Later, consecutive 3s by Anthony Hickey and Andre Stringer made it a 14-point game with 12:51 to go.
Kentucky had trouble stringing together a game-turning run, and did not pull within single digits until Aaron Harrison's 3 made it 83-76 with 43 seconds left.
LSU answered with free throws by Hickey and one last fast-break layup by O'Bryant to seal it.