First of all, there are two points that need to be made:
-- There’s no such thing as “offensive goaltending.” When an offensive player interferes with the ball in the cylinder, it’s “basket interference.”
-- What you saw in the final seconds of Kentucky vs. LSU was basket interference.
But here’s something else you should know: The game played in Rupp Arena Tuesday night never should have come down to that final play, if you’re looking at it through the UK prism. The Wildcats let a talented Tiger team hang around and hang around and the next thing you know, they’re on the wrong end of a 73-71 score. The team that was better this night, won.
In his post-game news conference, John Calipari allowed as how he’d not yet studied any replays of the controversial play. But he did understand that basket interference (as well as goal-tending) is not reviewable. That rule, he said, should change.
Recalling UK’s heart-breaking loss to Wisconsin in the 2015 Final Four, he re-counted the moment in that contest where a shot-clock violation should have been called on the Badgers, but was not – Wasn’t reviewable, was the explanation.
“And then they changed the rule,” Calipari said. “Why would you want to lose a game on a shot clock violation? And it’s easy – go check.
“Well, this one’s easy to go check, too. Just go check it.”
Calipari referred to a basketball giant so powerful he triggered real alterations in the rule book. “(UK is) like Wilt Chamberlain,” he said. “We change rules.”
But not in time to alter the outcome of this one.
“You have to give them credit,” Calipari said. “They played. We didn’t.”
Correct on both counts – specifically, played when it mattered most. LSU trailed 40-32 at halftime after hitting just 33 percent from the field. But in the second half, the Bayou Bengals knocked in 51.7 percent , including the questionable tip in the final second.
Out-rebounded 23-14 in the first 20 minutes, LSU held a 18-16 edge in the second half. In other words, the Tigers beat the Wildcats at their own game.
“We’re supposed to be a defensive team that rebounds,” Calipari said. “Obviously, we weren’t. Give them credit.”
The Tigers changed their defensive approach at halftime, looking to keep Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson from curling into the lane for easy shots or passes to the UK bigs. And while the Tigers’ hiccup-quick point guard, Tremont Waters, was just 3-of-13, he also charted five assists, three steals and was a perfect 8-of-8 at the stripe in 38 grueling minutes.
Waters wasn’t the only Tiger who was able to leave his man (usually Ashton Hagans) and dart into the paint to wreak havoc. “Ashton couldn’t stay in front of anybody,” Calipari said. “So every time they ran downhill, they got what they wanted.”
Eventually they got just enough of what they wanted (including a non-call that will be debated until Rupp Arena is a pile of dust) to escape Lexington with an upset of the nation’s fifth-ranked team. But after he listed all the things his team failed to do, Calipari began to recite of litany of what he liked.
“Let me say this,” he said. “We get down and this team fights and makes big plays to get back in the game.”
True. LSU took a five-point lead at 69-64 with 2:14 left to play. Kentucky absolutely needed a bucket – and got two from PJ Washington, a tough one inside along with a free throw. Then he dropped in another to tie the game at 69.
LSU re-took the lead at 71-69 on a pair of free throws by Waters, but Keldon Johnson, at the time only 3-of-7 from the stripe, answered with two clutch free throws of his own. That’s when LSU raced down the floor, got the ball up on the rim (or in the cylinder) and tipped it in.
“The free throws we made down the stretch,” Calipari said, “we missed some but we didn’t down the stretch. The threes that we missed (earlier), down the stretch this team made.”
They made them in order to dig out of a hole that never should have been there. But it’s over now and will serve as a series of viable teaching moments for Calipari and his staff.
“You hate for it to come down to the last play but that happens some times,” he said. “You hate that that play becomes questionable but it should not take away from what LSU did. They beat us.”
They did indeed, moving one step ahead of Kentucky in the race for the SEC title and the one-seed in the post-season tournament. The Wildcats can scramble the picture with a win over top-ranked Tennessee in Rupp Arena Saturday night.
They just have to make certain that the last play of THAT game is meaningless, with the scoreboard tilted in the right direction.