No. 16 Kentucky struggle without Wheeler; fall 65-60 to LSU in Baton Rouge


Kentucky Wildcats forward Keion Brooks Jr. (12) and his opponent eye the ball during the University of Kentucky vs. High Point basketball game on Friday, Dec. 31, 2021, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Jackson Dunavant | Staff

Hunter Shelton

No. 16 Kentucky stumbled on the road on Tuesday night, falling 65-60 to No. 21 LSU at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge.  

The Wildcats were without star point guard Sahvir Wheeler for nearly the entire game, as the Georgia transfer exited after running into a screen with just over 16 minutes to go in the first half.  

Davion Mintz led UK in scoring, dropping 16 points on just 4-12 shooting. Jacob Toppin and Kellan Grady were right behind, scoring 14 and 13 points, respectively. 

Tari Eason’s 13 points led LSU; the Tigers outshot Kentucky 42 percent to 36.  

LSU ran out to an 8-3 lead thanks to two 3-pointers by Brandon Murray and Xavier Pinson. The Wildcats would not score a second bucket until the 14:55 mark, when Oscar Tshiebwe flushed home a dunk. Tshiebwe finished with eight points to go along with his game-leading 13 rebounds.  

The first half was plagued with sloppy play by both teams, as the Cats and Tigers combined for 16 turnovers in the first 20 minutes.  

Kentucky struggled to get red-hot shooter Kellan Grady going in the first half. Fresh off a 23-point performance against High Point, in which the Davidson transfer drilled seven 3-pointers, Grady was ice-cold to start against LSU, going 0-7 from the floor, including 0-6 from deep.  

With 11:23 remaining in the first half, Tshiebwe would pick up his second personal foul, meaning the big man would head to the bench for the remainder of the half. 

Down their starting point guard, with their star forward on the bench, with their best shooter unable to buy a basket, the Wildcats turned to the bench, looking for someone to step up to avoid facing a large deficit at halftime.  

In steps Jacob Toppin.  

With Keion Brooks failing to produce, John Calipari turned to Toppin to come in and provide the spark his group needed. In eight minutes, Toppin would score 13 points on 6-6 shooting, including two thunderous dunks, while grabbing four rebounds.  

A reverse layup by Toppin with 2:36 left in the half would tie the game at 28. LSU would close the half strong, scoring seven straight points before Toppin retrieved an offensive rebound and nailed a fading midrange jumper at the buzzer to cut the Tiger lead to five at the break.  

Despite all of the early adversity, the Wildcats were down just five points with 20 minutes to play. 

The Tigers spread the love in the first half, with eight different players scoring in the first half, five of whom scored at least five points.  

Tshiebwe, who played just nine minutes in the half, was second on the team with six points at the break. 

Kentucky would shoot its way out of the rut to begin the second half, as Davion Mintz and Grady nailed three consecutive 3-pointers to give UK a quick four-point lead.  

Grady would return to his old hijinks, becoming a human flamethrower and connecting on three more treys to give the Wildcats their largest lead of the night at 50-41. 

LSU would not be deterred, quickly cutting the lead down to three thanks to buckets by Eric Gaines and Eason.  

Both teams would go on a three-minute scoring drought, plagued by bad shot selection and defensive effort.  

At the 9:17 mark, TyTy Washington left the game due to cramps in his left leg, leaving the Wildcats down their entire starting backcourt. Washington would return and play for two more minutes in the second half. 

After a free-throw by Efton Reid, Gaines would knock down his second 3-pointer of the game to retake the lead for the Tigers.  

Kentucky would run cold down the final stretch of the game, connecting on just two shots following Grady’s hot streak from deep with just over 13 minutes to go.  

LSU’s Darius Days would hit two shots from beyond the arch to flesh out the Tigers’ lead to seven with less than four minutes to go.  

The Cats would try to chip away at the charity stripe, a place where they would finish shooting a measly 50 percent, going 10-20 from the line.  

A Pinson turnover would lead to a Mintz 3-pointer, cutting LSU’s lead down to three with just over a minute to go. Another Tiger turnover by Gaines saw Mintz get to the rack and finish a layup to bring UK within one point with just 27 seconds left.  

Ensue chaos.  

A bad inbound pass by Days saw Tshiebwe come up with the loose ball, which he would in-turn fling towards the sideline. Mintz would hustle to the scorer’s table, saving the turnover while tumbling into the first row. Pinson would retrieve the pass and feed it to Eason, who jammed it home to give LSU a three-point lead with 13 seconds left.  

With time running out, Mintz would run up the court to try and make some magic happen, but Pinson would poke the ball away from Mintz to the hands of Mwani Wilkinson, who would dish it back to Pinson for a reverse slam to put the game away.  

As the final buzzer rang, LSU came away victorious 65-60, putting UK at 0-2 in true-road games, and 11-3 (1-1 SEC) overall. 

Despite double-digit second half performances from Mintz and Grady, Kentucky once again couldn’t overcome its shooting woes down the stretch in a road environment. 

Conference play will continue to roll into full swing as the Wildcats will return to Rupp Arena to host the struggling Georgia Bulldogs.  

Tip-off is scheduled for 6 p.m. E.T and can be viewed on SEC Network.