Three Points: Kentucky Loss

LSU lost a hard-fought battle to No. 1 Kentucky Tuesday night, 71-69. TSD publisher Ben Love puts forth three brass tacks on this game from a Tiger perspective.

1. Far from perfect, LSU still had enough firepower to stay in game.

- The Tigers didn't get anything near what they're accustomed to from Tim Quarterman (two points, two rebounds and seven assists). Nor was it a particularly sharp night for Jalyn Patterson (six points, three rebounds and three steals). But, despite the off performances from two key members of the rotation, and a so-so first half from Jordan Mickey, LSU led undefeated Kentucky by three - 69 to 66 - with 2:45 to play and a sold-out PMAC in full throat behind them.

What happened down the stretch, namely a big offensive rebound and resulting hook shot by Karl-Anthony Towns, is a credit to the Wildcats and their resilient nature. Did LSU let down with the set play that resulted in a shot-clock violation and then the final play that resulted in a contested Keith Hornsby three? Perhaps, but there is something to be said for LSU making its way to that position. The Tigers had to embark on a 16-0 run just to claw back from a double-digit deficit in the second half. LSU, which only turned it over nine times and kept the three-point attempts in check (3-of-10), got a combined 54 points from Hornsby, Mickey and Jarell Martin. Those are noteworthy achievements when facing the nation's top team. Despite big odds, LSU brought it and, for a chunk of the game, got Kentucky to play at its pace.

2. When it mattered most, Johnny Jones went Gray over Patterson.

- This was a puzzling aspect of the ballgame for many onlookers, that Josh Gray would take the crunch-time minutes over Patterson, who made his second straight start in LSU's backcourt. The breakdown: Patterson played only eight minutes in the second half while Gray logged 15 minutes of the final 20 to close the contest. Here was Jones' explanation following the game: "I thought Josh did a good job of on-the-ball defending. I thought he was under control. He made some plays offensively, and I thought he did a good job of putting pressure on the point guard defensively."

Patterson is widely recognized as one of LSU's best defenders, so this is a curious statement on the surface. But Gray did do a nice job on Tyler Ulis after halftime. UK's freshman point guard had only two assists following the break and went 0-of-4 from the field. Gray finished with seven points, four rebounds and two assists against only one turnover. He didn't light the world on fire, but LSU will gladly take that second half from Gray every time out. It will be interesting to monitor moving forward whether Gray continues to get crunch-time minutes over Patterson, who in general has come on strong in SEC play.

3. A loss, even one to Kentucky, doesn't help the big-picture cause.

- Admittedly, I was the one to ask Jones in postgame interviews. Can a close loss in this fashion, considering the opponent, actually benefit LSU come Selection Sunday? His response was classic coach speak: "I think our body of work speaks for itself ... We've done a lot of good work, but we've got to finish strong."

The real answer to that question is no. Unequivocally no. There is no such thing as a good loss in the eyes of the selection committee. And the reality of LSU's situation, with seven conference games left in the regular season, is that the Tigers have to win at least five, maybe six, of those games to feel good about going dancing in mid-to-late March. The upcoming slate for LSU includes home dates with Florida and Ole Miss as well as road games at Arkansas and Tennessee. It would be quite an accomplishment, but for now it's hard to see things any differently than this - LSU is positioned squarely behind the eight ball when it comes to chances of crashing the NCAA Tournament.



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