By CODY WORSHAM
Tiger Rag Editor
With its NCAA Tournament hopes on the line, LSU surrendered 53 second half points — the fourth time in five games opponents have eclipsed the half-century mark in the final 20 minutes — in a 94-77 loss at Kentucky.
The Tigers (18-13, 11-7 SEC) entered the day needing a win and a Texas A&M loss to win a share of the conference championship, but got neither, with the Aggies rolling over Vanderbilt 76-67 to share the title with Kentucky (23-8, 13-5 SEC).
Tyler Ulis led the way for the Wildcats, scoring 14 points and handing out 14 assists — nine in the first half and six leading to Kentucky dunks — to go with five rebounds and just one turnover. Jamal Murray led the hosts’ scoring efforts with 22 points, including four three-pointers, Skal Labissiere scored 18 points, grabbed nine rebounds, and collected six blocks in the win.
Tim Quarterman led all scorers with 23 points in the loss, and Antonio Blakeney added 19 on 7-for-14 shooting. Ben Simmons finished with 17 points, 11 rebounds, seven steals, and four assists, but turned the ball over six times.
The Tigers fell behind 41-32 at the half, surging out to a 14-8 lead on Blakeney’s three-pointer with 13:31 left in the period. The Wildcats answered with a 9-0 run, five courtesy of Labissiere, who looked every bit the lottery pick he’s projected in June’s NBA Draft.
LSU regained the lead on a Simmons jumper with just over eight minutes left in the first half, but Kentucky scored 10 unanswered, thanks to three Marcus Lee dunks on three Ulis assists.
The visitors never lead again, getting no closer than five points on two Blakeney free throws with 23:59 to play in the game. After Quarterman opened the second half with a dunk, Kentucky used a 12-3 run to extend their lead to 16. Seven straight from Quarterman and Blakeney whittled the deficit to nine, but back-to-back threes from Murray and Ulis made it 18 points again with 8 minutes to play, and the Wildcats held serve down the stretch, shooting 52.8 percent for the game and 50 percent in the final 20 minutes.
The Tigers will enter the SEC Tournament either as a No. 3 or No. 4 seed, and will likely need to win three straight games to earn the automatic bid. Otherwise, their season will end in the NIT.