Cats’ defense squeezes out victory at LSU

Four days after suffering one of the worst losses in the program’s history, UK used an improved defensive effort and consistent shooting to down Louisiana State 67-63 on Saturday at the Maravich Center in Baton Rouge, La.

“I think we showed some heart,” senior guard Joe Crawford said. “It’s tough. (The Vanderbilt game) was one of the worst whippings I’ve ever had since I started playing basketball. I knew it was going to be tough in here to come out here positively and win a ballgame.”

Led by Crawford, freshman forward Patrick Patterson and a smothering defense, the Cats (13-10, 7-3 Southeastern Conference) took off in the second half with a 13-3 run to grab an eight-point lead with 14:42 left in the game. UK limited LSU (9-15, 2-8 SEC) to three free throws and zero field goals until the 14:22 mark.

“Our defense was fantastic today,” head coach Billy Gillispie said. “It’s what we were shooting for in the first half, but we let it get away.”

Despite LSU’s sluggish start to begin the second half, the Tigers finally started hitting shots, touching off a 13-4 run of their own to reclaim the lead at 51-49. But Patterson tied the game for the Cats on the next possession, and senior guard Ramel Bradley hit a 3-pointer to put UK up for good, 54-51.

Crawford led the Cats with 21 points on 8-of-14 shooting, the majority of which were scored in the second half. Bradley added 16 and Patterson chipped in 14 to pace UK. Forward Anthony Randolph led LSU, pulling down 14 rebounds in addition to his game-high 24 points.

“For us to be at our best, Joe needs to be at his best,” Gillispie said. “He’s been fantastic, but I want him to score 20-plus points a game.”

UK wasn’t sharp early on, though. After staking to an early 7-4 lead, the Cats struggled for much of the first half. The Tigers held UK scoreless for over three minutes until sophomore guard Derrick Jasper’s layup with just over 13 minutes until halftime.

The Cats were also in foul trouble for the second consecutive game. Patterson picked up two fouls early on, and Jasper picked up three fouls of his own.

Randolph, who torched Florida on Wednesday, was as good as advertised, scoring nine first-half points.

“The whole team played hard,” Randolph said. “We wanted to win this game real bad. We did everything in our power to try and win this game.”

Still, the Tigers couldn’t pull away from the Cats.

Down 28-22 minutes before halftime, sophomore guard Jodie Meeks nailed two 3-pointers to bring the Cats within two points at the half.

After tumbling at Vanderbilt on Tuesday, the Cats desperately needed a win on the road to stay in the NCAA Tournament picture. The win also boosted the UK’s chance at a first-round bye in the SEC Tournament.

“This is a really important game,” Crawford said. “This can decide who can go up or down from here on. We came out here, and we fought hard. We knew we needed to win this ballgame.”

Compiled from LSU Athletics reports