No. 6 Kentucky grinds out 71-66 win over LSU


Kentucky Wildcats forward Jacob Toppin (0) and guard Davion Mintz (10) high five forward Oscar Tshiebwe (34) during the UK vs. Louisiana State University mens basketball game on Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2022, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. UK won 71-66. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Hunter Shelton

No. 6 Kentucky (23-5, 12-3 SEC) gritted out a 71-66 win against LSU (19-9, 7-8 SEC) inside Rupp Arena on Wednesday night.  

The Wildcats were once again without starting guards TyTy Washington and Sahvir Wheeler. The pair sat out for the second game in a row, each trying to reach 100 percent health after nursing injuries.  

Wheeler played just four minutes in Kentucky’s 65-60 loss to the Tigers on Jan. 4, as he left the game early in the first half after running into a screen set by center Efton Reid. 

Like their last game against Alabama, the Wildcats did not need the star duo to claim another SEC victory.  

UK shot 46.9 percent as a team despite making just two of 12 3-point attempts. LSU would make seven more treys but turn-in a 36.8 shooting percentage.  

Oscar Tshiebwe recorded double-double No. 22 on the season, notching a team-high 17 points and 16 rebounds.  

Three other Wildcats would score double-digit points, including one unsuspecting figure.  

Kellan Grady managed 13 points despite making zero 3-pointers. The Davidson transfer did his damage in the second half, shooting 3-7 for nine points.  

Relishing in his starting role, Davion Mintz accounted for 13 points, nearly matching his total from the first matchup against LSU, where he scored a team-high 16.  

Off the bench for UK, freshman Bryce Hopkins provided a much-needed spark, scoring 13 second half points, a season high.  

“What he did today is he rebounded and he went to the offensive glass, he tried to guard, he was involved in everything, made a stick back, makes a 15-footer,” UK head coach John Calipari said. “He did what the team needed him to do.”

The Oak Park, Illinois native shot 5-6 in the second half, leading UK in points after the break. 

“The team was so happy for him and so was I,” Calipari said.

LSU’s leading scorer Tari Eason, who averages 16.9 points a game, fouled out with 9:27 remaining in the second half, scoring just five points in the process.  

Xavier Pinson would try to carry the Tigers, scoring a game-high 26 points, but 36 percent shooting as a team plagued LSU down the stretch.  

Foul trouble proved to stifle the Tigers in the second half, as every player who checked in for Will Wade’s group picked up at least two personal fouls on Wednesday night.  

Kentucky turned its worst offensive half of the season against LSU, scoring just 23 points in the first 20 minutes, the lowest point total in one half for a John Calipari coached team since Feb. 3, 2018, against Missouri.  

UK made just eight field goals in the half, shooting 33.3 percent as a team. The Wildcats failed to record a made 3-pointer in the half.  

“I walked in at half time and said, ‘We’re down four baskets, and you know what? If you will start cutting and driving, you will get what you want,'” Calipari said. 

The second half would be a different story, as Kentucky shot 60 percent while connecting on 16 free throws.  

UK dominated the paint in the half out-rebounding LSU 21-9 while outscoring the Tigers 22-10 down low.  

Despite a mediocre start and a stagnant offense fighting against an LSU defense that is rated towards the top of the defensive efficiency charts, the Cats found themselves up 15 points with under four minutes to play. 

Pinson led a lofty comeback attempt in the final minutes, as he spearheaded a 12-2 run, cutting the lead down to four with 34 seconds remaining.  

Kentucky would struggle to break LSU’s press down the stretch, giving away multiple turnovers that led to the shrunken lead.  

“We had a couple guys not play well today. Well, you’re not playing as much. No big deal. Be ready for the next game,” Calipari said.

Keion Brooks would make two free throws to get the lead back to six, before Darius Days brought it back to four with a layup, leaving just 3.7 seconds on the clock.  

UK’s first inbound attempt would not work, leaving Brooks to call a timeout. After a full TO, Toppin would take over the inbounding duties, only to do the same as Brooks, unable to get the ball in.  

The third time would be the charm, as Tshiebwe collected the inbound pass, getting fouled. He would make one of two free throws, icing the game for the Cats.  

“I tried to tell the guys we’ve got in three timeouts. Call them; they still threw them in. Like call a time out. We’re fine,” Calipari said. 

Mercifully, Kentucky escaped its home court with a gritty victory.  

Next up for the Wildcats is its final ranked matchup of the regular season, as they will travel to Fayetteville to take on the No. 18 Arkansas Razorbacks (22-6, 11-4 SEC.) 

“A good team has good players. A great team has great teammates. These guys are terrific teammates. They’re great teammates. That gives us a chance. And we are talented,” Calipari said.

Tip-off between the Cats and Hogs is set for 2 p.m. EST on Feb. 26, as Kentucky looks to keep ahold of second place in the SEC.