- Saturday, February 28 2009 -
Louisiana State - 73 (Head Coach: Trent Johnson) - [Ranked 18th by AP and 18th by ESPN/USA Today]
Kentucky - 70 (Head Coach: Billy Gillispie) - [Unranked]
|A. J. Stewart||3||0||1||0||1||0||0||0||0||0||1||1||0||0||0||0|
Halftime Score: Louisiana State 36, Kentucky 28
|Prior Game|||||Next Game|
|South Carolina 59 - 77|||||Georgia 85 - 90|
Game Writeup - Written by Matt May; Courtesy of The Cats Pause, (All Rights Reserved)
LSU wins thriller over UK, 73-70
Time is running out on Kentucky.
The last grains of sand are slipping through the hourglass after LSU pulled out a 73-70 thriller before 24,411 stunned fans in Rupp Arena. Tasmin Mitchell capped a fantastic offensive day by hitting a three-pointer with 9.1 seconds remaining to give the SEC-leading Tigers their first win at UK in 20 years.
It was another gut-wrenching finish for the Cats, who blew a 10-point second half lead on their home floor for the second time in conference play. Once a feared place to play the venerable old arena has less teeth these days, yielding three losses in league play after none a year ago.
This one had to cut the deepest given the postseason ramifications and turmoil after a humbling loss at South Carolina earlier in the week.
"We're just not mature enough to beat a really good team that stays composed," UK coach Billy Gillispie said. "We just didn't play smart enough when we had a lead. It was very similar to the South Carolina game when we got a 10-point lead and then relax for just a second and all of the sudden (it's a game)."
The Cats showed plenty of the moxie that was missing three nights earlier but critical mistakes down the stretch doomed them yet again. LSU got a three-point play on a tip in rebound with 1:48 remaining and then A.J. Stewart - who quit the team earlier this week only to allowed to return - and Kevin Galloway botched a switch and left Mitchell alone at the top of the key for the game winner.
It was the type of mental acuity error that has plagued this edition of the Cats all season, the same mistakes senior guards Joe Crawford and Ramel Bradley did not make in Gillispie's first season as coach.
"We were up 10 and looking to push the lead more but LSU did a great job of keeping their composure," guard Jodie Meeks said. "We let this game slip away. Experience always helps you and we have some young guys but that's not an excuse for losing.
"I wouldn't say it's inexcusable. People make mistakes but it was a big point in the game and we left Tasmin Mitchell wide open for a three. That kind of stuff, when you're supposed to switch and you don't the defense breaks down because everyone thinks you're doing something and then you don't."
Clearly agitated by the ending Gillispie blamed himself for a substitution decision after the Cats turned a 36-28 halftime deficit into a 56-46 lead with 9:50 remaining. Although Gillispie would not reveal the player he was speaking about to either the media or in the locker room most of the evidence - including a post game comment by Patrick Patterson - appears to point to embattled forward Perry Stevenson.
"I made a critical, critical, critical substitution in that time when we had a 10-point lead and played the wrong guy," Gillispie said. "Ramon (Harris) knocked his shoulder out of place or something, he looked like he was really hurting so I subbed. That's what got us in that position in the first place and what got us beat in the end. Bad mistake by me."
Sensing his team may be dead to rights Gillispie switched his lineup to begin the second half, inserting freshman Darius Miller for Stevenson and Galloway for Michael Porter. The move paid immediate dividends and when LSU was forced to call it's third timeout of the first nine minutes of the second half everything appeared to be in the Cats' favor.
Minutes later LSU had sliced the deficit to one behind star guard Marcus Thornton, who had just six points in the first half and then 15 over the final 9:33 of the game. The SEC's second-leading scorer buried a three from the right wing to jump-start what had been a horrible shooting effort to that point.
"When we had a 10-point lead we just let him catch it in the corner and throw it in the basket," Gillispie said. "You can't do that. He's a really good player. We just didn't play as smartly as we needed to defensively. That shouldn't be happening."
But those things have been happening all too often in a season where the Cats often seem to take two steps back for every three they take forward.
"We just make too many mistakes at critical parts of the game to win close games," Gillispie said. "You have to listen and you have to carry out your assignments."
Time is running out to fix either of those issues.
LSU's Bo Spencer splits the defense of Darius Miller and Jodie Meeks
Tasmin Mitchell shoots over Josh Harrellson