And it still wasn’t enough to derail the undefeated Wildcats.
Top-ranked Kentucky improved to 24-0, the second-best start in the program’s grand history, with a thrilling 71-69 victory over the Tigers in Baton Rouge.
Willie Cauley-Stein and Karl-Anthony Towns combined for 27 points, 20 rebounds and five blocked shots to help UK counter LSU’s talented frontcourt duo of Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey, who teamed for 37 points and 18 rebounds.
Towns was almost the goat, picking up a technical foul for hanging on the rim on a missed dunk attempt with 10:39 remaining. LSU converted the miscue into a four-point trip and momentum swung heavily during a shocking 21-2 run by the Tigers.
“When he chinned-up and got the technical, I refused to call a timeout,” UK coach John Calipari said. “I told my assistants, ‘Nope. I’m gonna let this game go so he can learn a lesson.' That’s all that hero/fake stuff. Not happening here. Not on this team. Can’t do it. You’re going to lose because of that? But let’s lose this one and not one in April or March."
To his credit, Towns wasn’t interested in having a learn-from-a-loss moment. The freshman forward overcame the miscue and put the Cats back on top with a clutch jump hook after his own offensive rebound with 1:30 to go, part of a 11-3 run by UK to close the game. He also had a steal and an assist during the decisive spurt.
"He came back in, huge rebound, huge basket," Calipari said of Towns. "He grew up today."
"He brings the best out of me," Towns said of his coach.
Kentucky also got double-figure scoring from guards Devin Booker (14) and Andrew Harrison (13). Trey Lyles, playing for the first time since Jan. 29 due to an illness, had four points, three rebounds and a blocked shot.
LSU (17-7, 6-5 SEC) also got 17 points from Keith Hornsby, the son of famed musician Bruce Hornsby. The junior guard had a chance to win the game for the Tigers, but missed a 3-pointer from the left wing as time expired.
In this AllWildcats "Rapid Recap" feature, we touch on some of the night’s highs and lows:
WHAT WE LIKED: Kentucky answered the challenge of matching up with LSU’s physical, talented frontcourt. Factoring in the contributions of Dakari Johnson (7 points, 4 rebounds) and Marcus Lee (2 points), it was largely a draw in the paint. One has to like the Cats’ chances if it comes down to guard play versus the Tigers. Excluding Hornsby, LSU’s backcourt went 7-for-22 from the field.
KEY MOMENT: After going down 66-60 at the end of LSU’s monster second-half run, UK got a shot-clock beating 18-footer from Towns to start its own run. Booker followed with a sweet jumper, and a rebound jam by Cauley-Stein cut the deficit to one with 4:06 to play. The Cats had taken the Tigers’ best punch and shook it off.
STAT OF THE DAY: The college game may be dominated by guard play these days, but UK and LSU combined for 82 points in the paint on Tuesday. The Cats scored 42, the Tigers scored 40.
BY THE NUMBERS:
1 – Wins needed by Kentucky to match the best start in school history, the 25-0 season the 1953-54 Cats posted.
6th - Longest win streak in UK program history.
17 – Offensive rebounds for the Cats, who grabbed almost half of their misses.
29-7 – UK's advantage in bench points.
56 - The Cats made their coach a winner on his birthday.
7:29 - UK allowed only one LSU basket and one free throw over this final stretch of the game.
QUOTABLE: "He was tired, but it was good to have him back… That’s to be expected after being out for a while, but he came up with a big 50/50 ball at the end.” – Calipari on Lyles returning to action.
UP NEXT: Kentucky returns to action Saturday at Rupp Arena against South Carolina. The Gamecocks (12-11, 3-8 SEC) beat Missouri 65-60 at home on Tuesday. The Cats won the first matchup with South Carolina 58-43 on Jan. 24.