LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Glass half-full crowd: Kentucky bounced back from its embarrassing loss to Florida and held a commanding 25-point lead over LSU on Tuesday night at Rupp Arena.
Glass half-empty crowd: The same Wildcats managed to allow the SEC cellar-dwellers to trim the deficit to six within the final minute of play before hanging on for a 92-85 victory.
In the end, not even UK head coach John Calipari was sure what to make of it.
"I thought we did some good stuff," for most of the game, he said.
"Eight minutes to go, what we did, we reverted. I don't know if we were tired or reverted back. Might have been a combination of both. If I could practice tonight, we would have gone three hours. I would have had them meet me at the gym at 10 o’clock, and I would have gone three hours until 1 in the morning until people were puking. That's what I would have done. That's the old days. I can't do that."
Calipari did, however, promise a marathon practice session on Wednesday. He also offered a warning for any player who might be thinking of calling in sick.
" I told them, If anybody says they can't go, you won't make the trip to Alabama," Calipari said. "... We're going to get after this and continue to build what you saw for three quarters of the game."
Kentucky (19-5, 9-2 SEC) did enough good things to wash away some of the bad taste from the 22-point loss at Florida. Freshman forward Wenyen Gabriel scored a career-high 23 points, grabbed eight rebounds and dished out two assists. Freshman guard Malik Monk also scored 23 for the Cats, who shot 49 percent from the field and held a 40-26 rebounding advantage after getting whipped by 25 on the glass by the Gators.
But the Wildcats also allowed LSU (9-14, 1-10 SEC) to shoot 50 percent from the field, including a staggering 63 percent in the second half. The Tigers rallied on the strength of 8-for-11 shooting from the 3-point arc after the break. They made five consecutive treys at one point during an 11-of-15 hot streak.
Sophomore guard Antonio Blakeney led the Tigers with 31 points, one shy of his career high. Backcourt mate Brandon Sampson added 17 points for LSU.
"The setback Kentucky was coming off of, there from Florida, we knew they would come in and be focused," LSU head coach Johnny Jones said. "That they were. I thought they played a really good first half of basketball. I thought our guys did a good job of remaining focused and continuing to battle to the bitter end there and at least continue to fight and battle, unfortunately, we couldn’t overcome the first-half deficit there enough to get a victory here in Rupp Arena tonight."
In this AllWildcats "Rapid Recap" feature, we touch on some quick-hitters from the game...
WHAT WE LIKED:
Kentucky seemed to have a better flow on the offensive end of the floor and posted a final score closer to its season average than what we've seen during the last three weeks. All of the individual parts in the starting lineup had a solid showing, which was a good sign coming off Calipari's "reboot" practice session on Monday. In addition to Gabriel and Monk, De'Aaron Fox had 16 points and six assists, Isaiah Briscoe had 14 points and six rebounds, and Bam Adebayo had eight points and nine rebounds. Whether it was due to injury, illness or slumping, at least one member of the starting lineup had not been performing well for quite some time.
Wenyen Gabriel, Kentucky -- The freshman forward looked like the "X-factor" that many believe he could be for UK's tournament hopes this season, doing a little bit of everything from the 4 spot that has been anything but a given for the Cats. He was 7-of-11 from the field, 3-of-6 from beyond the arc, 6-of-7 at the free-throw line and pulled down eight rebounds.
BY THE NUMBERS:
0 - Rebounds for UK guard Malik Monk in the last two games.
21 of 26 - Cats' free throws on the night, tying a season-best 80.8 percent.
23 - LSU points off 14 UK turnovers.
45 - Straight wins for UK over unranked opponents at Rupp Arena.
88-26 - UK's all-time record against LSU.
999 - Consecutive games for UK with a made 3-pointer.
"They either got to step on the gas or they got to step back. Not being mean, I'm just being real. It's that time. Either you step on the gas and get this right or you got to step back." -- UK head coach John Calipari.
Kentucky returns to action on Saturday at Alabama (14-9, 7-4 SEC), which recorded its first Top 25 win in 13 years last night with a quadruple-overtime 90-86 triumph at SEC-leading South Carolina. Tipoff is slated for 1 p.m. ET on CBS.