Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Kentucky 77 - 76 Louisiana St. (Overtime) (No. 2,132)

I had an absolutely terrible feeling about this game before it started.  In fact, I had spent the whole afternoon out in the sun with Number 3 Son, and I told Smart Mom that I was going to take a nap and just find out the score when the game was over.  But instead, I woke up at halftime and my curiosity got the best of me.  Here's what I had missed:

1st quarter:  Kentucky 15, LSU 15
2d quarter:  Kentucky 20, LSU 17 (Kentucky led 35-32 at the half)

This wasn't too bad.  In fact, according to Ken Pomeroy, UK had a 90 percent chance of victory.  So I decided to start watching.  But it turned out that my initial instincts were right, and that UK was in for a very long afternoon.

Now there was a lot of speculation on the message boards about why the Cats had such a hard time.  To me, it all came down to this:

Three-point shooting:
Kentucky:  1-9
LSU:  7-17

Three-point shooting is the most random element of modern basketball.  For the year, UK makes 32.2 percent of its three-point shots, while LSU makes 34.1 percent.  So you would normally expect the Cats to go 3-9, and you would expect LSU to go 6-17.  That's a nine-point difference.  Given that Pomeroy had picked UK to win by 13, the difference in three-point shooting alone was the difference between an expected comfortable victory and a nail-biter.

The other big factor was Anthony Hickey, formerly of Christian County High School.  UK refused to give Hickey a scholarship after he led County to the state championship -- and like a good representative of Christian County, he now attacks UK with the intensity of a thousand suns.  He was very good when we played LSU down in Baton Rouge, but he was spectacular in Lexington.  Check out this line:

Anthony Hickey:  4-8 from 2-point range, 4-9 from 3-point range, 20 points, 8 assists, 1 turnover

That's a great game -- he was the best player on the floor.  (Johnny O'Bryant also had 20 points for LSU, but he went 8-25 from the floor to get there.  UK actually defended him quite well.)

On the other side, UK had no outside shooting at all.  For the game, the Cats went 3-21 outside the paint -- they were 0-9 in this category in the second half and overtime.  LSU was playing a sagging zone that would have been extremely vulnerable to outside shooting -- but UK couldn't make anything.  Because LSU's defense was packed so deep, UK couldn't really get the ball to its big guys.  To score, therefore, UK had to penetrate the zone, or score off of an offensive rebound.

It was a nightmare.  Even a few jump shots here or there could have opened up the game for Kentucky, but that wasn't happening.  Meanwhile, every time LSU was in big trouble, someone (usually Hickey) would make a long shot to pull them back into contention.  But the Cats didn't give up.  They actually did attack the basket over and over and over, getting 17 offensive rebounds and using them to stay in the game.  In fact, the Cats were up 63-61 with less than 2 minutes to go, and I still thought they were going to hang on for the victory.  I was sitting there saying to myself, "Don't let Hickey shoot a three, don't let Hickey shoot a three -- when all of a sudden HICKEY NAILED A THREE TO GIVE LSU a 64-63 lead.

At that point, I thought the game was probably lost.  It was just the capstone on one of the most frustrating hours I've ever spent in front of the TV.  There was a lot of yelling -- Number 3 Son came upstairs to check on me.  UK missed a three-pointer -- made a stop -- missed another jump shot -- and suddenly LSU had the ball and the lead and there were only about 25 seconds remaining.

I literally cannot remember the last time UK won a game after it had been forced to foul.  I always assume the Cats lose those games, and I usually don't even watch the other team shoot the free throws.  But this time, Andre Stringer -- who makes 82.1 percent of his free throws -- missed one of two, and LSU's lead was only 65-63.  Andrew Harrison drove into the lane and was fouled with 10 seconds to go.  Andrew makes 76.3 percent of his free throws, and he made them both to tie the game.  Hickey had the chance for the last shot -- and this was the only time in the whole game where I thought he made a mistake.  Instead of pressing forward and trying to get to the basket, he shot a contested three-pointer at the buzzer -- but for once, his faith in his destiny let him down, and the ball rimmed out.  Overtime.

In the last 10 minutes of the game, LSU had outscored UK 18-12, and the Tigers continued to hold the momentum in overtime.  After Hickey hit a three-pointer and a layup, the Tigers led 74-71 with less than two minutes left.  Aaron Harrison missed at the other end, but Julius Randle got the rebound (he had 15 rebounds in all) and was fouled.  His free throws made the score 74-73 with 1:41 left.  Here's what happened next:

UK played great defense and forced O'Bryant into a turnover with 1:15 left.
But then James Young's shot was blocked, Randle got the rebound, and then RANDLE MISSED from a few feet away.  LSU ball with 59 seconds left.
LSU called time and got the ball to O'Bryant, who missed a jump shot.  Andrew Harrison got the rebound with 30 seconds to go.

Now I was screaming for UK to do something before LSU could set up that zone, and they did.  Andrew Harrison passed the ball to James Young, who came pouring down the court like a guy who was determined to win the game.  He didn't score -- but he did draw Hickey's FIFTH FOUL.  Young only makes 65.5 percent of his free throws, but this time he made both of them, and the Cats were up 75-74 with 23 seconds left.

I thought LSU might be discombobulated without Hickey to run the offense, and maybe they were.  But Stringer drove to the basket and lobbed up an extremely difficult shot over Willie Cauley-Stein -- which, of course, went in.  Now LSU led 76-75 and only 12 seconds were left.

After the game, Coach Calipari explained that he doesn't like to call time in this situation.  He said that stopping the clock helps the defense -- which can get set, or even spring a new defense on you.  His view is that his team knows what the other team's going to do and what it's going to do, and so they may as well get on with it.

So here came the Cats.  Andrew Harrison dribbled up court, and with 8 seconds to go he handed off to Young.  Now Young, the twins, the LSU players, and the whole Commonwealth of Kentucky knew that Young -- who loves to take the big shot -- would try to score.  He drove past one LSU defender, stumbled, and looked up to find two other LSU players between himself and the goal.  Nevertheless, he kept going, crashing into them with what appeared to be a very awkward attempt to draw a foul.  Young hit the floor, and the ball went flying backwards -- into the large hands of Julius Randle, who had just enough time to switch the ball to his deadly left hand AND MAKE THE GAME WINNING SHOT WITH 3 SECONDS LEFT.

Absolute pandemonium at Rupp -- and in my house.  UK doesn't play that many close games, and they tend to lose a lot of those.  The Cats had not made a game-winning buzzer beater at Rupp since John Wall beat Miami of Ohio back in 2009, and I literally cannot remember the last time UK went from losing to winning in the last five seconds of any game.

To the statistical mind, of course, the results of such a close game are determined primarily by chance.  And UK was due for a close win -- the Cats were 1-5 in games decided by less than five points prior to Saturday.  But it sure doesn't feel like luck.  If UK had lost this game, they might have been pushed completely out of the top 25, and any chance they had of getting a decent seed in the NCAA's would be gone.  We'd also have been forced into a whole crisis mode.  Instead, the Cats pulled out their second win in a row and ran their record to 11-3 in the SEC and 21-6 overall.

Next up, the Cats will be playing their third straight opponent who is looking for a big win to get into the NCAA's.  They beat Ole Miss and they held off LSU.  How will they do against Arkansas?

6 comments:

  1. Great report Hickey's shot at the end of regulation was so close to going in. I can only imagine that Hickey had the bus back to Baton Rouge stop at some barns on the way out of Kentucky so he could set them on fire.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I meant to say this in the write-up, but I honestly believe LSU would have won the game if Hickey had not fouled out. He would have either done something so that LSU would take the lead with almost no time left, or he would have messed up UK's last possession. He was just spectacular.

    ReplyDelete