LSU head coach Will Wade said it stepped up another weight class last week when it played Mississippi State and Auburn, and yet another when it took on No. 5 Kentucky on Tuesday night in Rupp Arena.
The No. 19 Tigers (20-4, 10-1 Southeastern Conference) established themselves as members of that weight class with a 73-71 victory against the Wildcats (20-4, 9-2) on the road for the program’s first win in Rupp Arena in a decade and its first road win against John Calipari.
After Kentucky guard Keldon Johnson tied the game at 71 apiece with two free throws, LSU had six seconds to make something happen.
Skylar Mays received the inbounds pass and drove it the length of the floor to put up a prayer of a layup. It didn’t go in, but senior forward Kavell Bigby-Williams went up and tapped it in before time expired.
“If you get in on your backboard, you give yourself a chance,” Wade said in the postgame interview on ESPN after the game.
It looked as though Bigby-Williams may have touched the ball over the basket which would be grounds for offensive goal tending, but since it wasn’t called on the floor, the game-winning bucket counted as he got it off before the buzzer and offensive goal tending can’t be reviewed.
The dramatic ending was a fitting end to a back-and-forth game that saw both teams swinging from the jump.
There were seven lead changes before the first media timeout which Kentucky went to leading 10-9.
The Wildcats went on to control the tempo of the first half with great defense and an efficient offense, allowing only Marlon Taylor to make more than one field goal attempt in the first half and taking a 40-32 lead into the break.
But for the fifth time in six games, the Tigers crawled back into the game, and it did so with Naz Reid on the bench with four fouls for much of the second half.
Emmitt Williams stepped up in his place and put together one of his best performances since league play started.
Williams finished the game with 12 points and six rebounds in just 19 minutes of play, shooting a perfect 5-for-5 from the field.
Despite the foul trouble, Reid also had a solid outing, shooting 5-for-10 for 12 points with two 3-pointers, including one that put LSU ahead 65-62 with 3:45 left in the game.
LSU point guard Tremont Waters to get anything going in the first half, but still maaged to post a team-high 15 points and five assists with just two turnovers. The Tigers only committed eight turnovers all game.
Sophomore forward PJ Washington led Kentucky with a game-high 20 points, and he almost helped the Wildcats for overtime with back-to-back buckets in the final minute of the game that erased a five-point LSU lead in the final two minutes of the game.
The Tigers now own sole possession of the No. 2 spot in the SEC standings, sitting just one game behind the nation’s No. 1 team in Tennessee, who they will play next weekend on Saturday, Feb. 23.
This Saturday, they will travel to Georgia for a rematch against the Bulldogs in hopes of remaining unbeaten in road SEC games this season