Saturday sure seemed like Groundhog Day for LSU.
As in Tuesday’s 30-point home loss to Alabama when the Tigers were dead on arrival, LSU repeated its same lifeless defense in the first 10 minutes Saturday at Kentucky.
It was enough to put the Tigers in a double-digit hole they occasionally escaped but never strung together enough productive offensive possessions and defensive stops as the previously struggling Wildcats prevailed in an 82-69 SEC victory.
In suffering their second straight league loss after four consecutive victories, the Tigers (10-4, 5-3 in SEC) trailed by 13 at halftime and couldn’t get closer than five points twice in the second half when LSU made just 1 of 13 3-pointers.
“We’re coming out slow and there’s no way around it,” said LSU sophomore forward Trendon Watford, the Tigers’ lone bright spot with 20 points and 10 rebounds. “This has happened the last two games. From the start, we can’t dig ourselves a hole like this. . .we’ve got to do better.”
Kentucky (5-9, 4-3 SEC) entered Saturday’s game on a three-game losing streak. The Wildcats were coming off a 63-62 loss at Georgia in which UK allowed the game-winning basket off an inbounds play.
Although Kentucky didn’t look like anything resembling any of Wildcats’ coach John Calipari’s four Final Four teams in nine NCAA tournament appearances, UK had to be relieved facing LSU’s ineffective 2-3 matchup zone and the Tigers’ asleep at the wheel 2-2-1 press.
Kentucky led 49-36 at halftime against LSU “welcome mat” defense. It was the most points and biggest halftime lead this season for Kentucky.
It wasn’t quite as bad as Alabama hitting 12 of its first 15 3-pointers in its 105-75 Tuesday night pounding at LSU, but only because Kentucky didn’t need to loft a load of 3’s.
Just as welcoming as LSU’s porous matchup zone was its zone press defense that Kentucky exploited easily for backdoor lob dunks and layups.
While it took Alabama just 3:23 to get its first double figure lead vs. the Tigers, Kentucky had to work a bit harder – but not much – to obtain its first double-digit advantage with the game just more than five minutes old.
“We were late in our rotations,” LSU coach Will Wade said, “and we left the rim a couple of times. We must have given up six or seven lob dunks. We can’t leave the rim on the back end of the press.”
Kentucky had four players score in double figures, led by freshman guard Brandon Boston’s 18 points. Sophomore forward Keion Brooks Jr. had 15 points and 9 rebounds.
Freshman forward Isaiah Jackson came off the bench to grab 15 rebounds as UK dominated the backboards 46-31.
LSU freshman Cam Thomas was the lone scorer in double figures beside Watford, finishing with 18 points on 6-of-20 shooting including just 1 of 8 3’s. He’s now 6 of 38 in 3’s in his last six games.
Juniors Javonte Smart and Darius Days, the Tigers’ most experienced starters, combined for 10 points on 4-of-17 shooting including 1 of 8 3s.