The Arkansas Razorbacks went into Knoxville and beat 11th-ranked Tennessee Saturday, the same Volunteers that entered the day in a dead heat with the No. 24 ranked Tigers for first place in the SEC.
Brady said he didn't want to burden his team with any additional pressure before hitting the hardwood with Kentucky, but rather let his squad know what was attainable.
"We put it on the board before we went out on the floor," Brady said. "I said ‘guys here is something you may be interested in.' I didn't want to be too uptight about this going in because our players knew the significance of the game without knowing the Tennessee score.
"I said, ‘okay, what you know now is, it (first place) is right there for us. All we have to do is seize the moment and grab the opportunity."
LSU sophomore center Glen Davis said he and his teammates understood the opportunity, but quickly put any thought of the league crown out of their minds.
"We didn't dwell on that, Davis said. "If it's going to happen it's going to happen. Arkansas did us a favor, but we just capitalized by doing what we had to do today."
It was evident, though, Davis and Co. no doubt grabbed the bull by the horns.
Davis scored 28 points and grabbed 15 rebounds as LSU defeated Kentucky 71-67 before a rain-soaked crowd of 9,672 at the Pete Maravich Center Saturday afternoon.
Brady followed up his pregame comments with a satisfying affirmation for his team.
"I told the players right before we dispersed from the locker room (after the game), ‘the last time checked, the LSU Tigers were 12-2 in the SEC and in first place all by themselves,'" Brady said. "I have to say they were a little excited about that."
On a day when LSU honored the 1986 Tigers team, a squad that defeated Kentucky to advance to the Final Four, the Tigers (20-7, 12-2 SEC) beat the Wildcats for the first time since a 70-57 victory in the SEC championship season of 2000.
"I think it is a big win, regardless of where Kentucky is in the SEC" said LSU junior forward Darnell Lazare. "They've built themselves to a place where everyone is trying to get."
The win was a big one for the Tigers, most notably because it puts LSU in the driver seat for the program's first outright SEC title since 1985. But the four-point triumph didn't come without overwhelming adversity.
If Tasmin Mitchell's ailing back and Darrel Mitchell's tweaked ankle weren't large enough obstacles to overcome, factor in losing Tyrus Thomas with a high ankle sprain and Tasmin Mitchell getting poked in the eye just for good measure. Then toss in the fact the opponent is Kentucky (18-10, 8-6), a team playing for their tournament lives, and Saturday's game brought new meaning to words adverse conditions.
"I told our team before the game, this game's going to boil down to who can defend the best the longest, stay on the board and rebound the ball and get to the foul line," Brady said.
Check, check, check.
LSU went 27 of 31 from the free throw line, including a perfect 9 for 9 clip by Davis, and outrebounded the Wildcats 38-26 to notch the four-point victory.
"We were able to get to the free throw line and go 27 of 31, 17 of 19 in the second half, which were the points in the game that really helped us win the game," Brady said.
As for defending the longest, LSU held the Wildcats to a 45.6-percent shooting mark from the floor, even as both Darrel Mitchell and Davis played with four fouls a piece. Darrel Mitchell logged his fourth foul with 8:52 left to play, but finished the game re-entering with seven minutes left to play. He hit four clutch free throws, including two with 13 seconds left to play that gave LSU the lead for good 69-67.
"I knew no matter what I wasn't going to foul," said Darrel Mitchell, who finished the game scoring 13 points, including going 6 for 6 from the free throw line.
The moment of truth came on the heels of Mitchell's final two free throws. Kentucky got the ball trailing by two with 13.2 seconds remaining. Knowing a three would win the game, the Wildcats looked desperately for sharp-shooting Patrick Sparks. Sparks had just previously erased a pair of four point LSU leads burying back to back three-pointers from well beyond the arch inside of 1:22 left to play.
However, with Davis working on Kentucky's big man Randolph Morris, Sheray Thomas bounced off a screen set by Sparks and took an entry pass from Rajon Rondo on the low block. Lazare denied Thomas the passing lane to a wide-open Sparks, and with time running out, Thomas forced a shot that failed to draw iron. Davis grabbed the rebound and was fouled with eight-tenths of a seconds remaining.
"I thought the possession when Darnell Lazare defended the post and made the player take a tough shot with him belly-up position with arms extended and not fouling," Brady said. "I thought that was a great individual defensive thing to do and not foul."
Kentucky coach Tubby Smith spotted Sparks wide open but realized Sheray Thomas waited too long to try and get the ball to him. However, Smith was hoping Sheray Thomas could at least get to the free throw line.
"They were looking for Randolph (Morris)," Smith said. "Patrick (Sparks) was wide open. We just have to get it to him sooner. Sheray (Thomas) is one of out better free throw shooters. I figured we could get it inside and get it up on the boards right away."
Sheray Thomas said he questioned himself for a split second, which cost him in the end.
"I should have gone with my first move," Sheray Thomas said. "At the last second I decided to change it and go with the right-handed hook to the baseline and missed everything. I feel like I could have tied the game. I feel like this one's on me. I lost the game."
Davis sank a pair of free throws on the other end, capping off his seventh straight double-double and SEC leading 15th doubler, to set off a rowdy celebration on the Tigers bench.
LSU bolted out to a 12-4 lead at the 16:33 mark on the strength of 11 quick points by Davis. But Kentucky battled back tying the score at 19-19 with a Brandon Stockton three-pointer with 11:00 left in the first half. The Wildcats were 8 of 21 from the three-point line, converting four treys in each half.
Joe Crawford buried a long range three giving the Cats their first lead of the game 22-21 at the 8:52 mark. But Darrel Mitchell answered with a net-popping trey of his own just 15 seconds later.
Sheray Thomas gave Kentucky its largest lead of the game 37-30 on a layup with 1:16 left in the half. But Davis manuevered his way through the paint and banged home a layup trimming the Wildcat lead to five at the half.
When the teams returned, LSU was without Tyrus Thomas, who was quickly shuttled across the street to Tiger Stadium for X-rays on his right ankle. The Tiger forward went down inside of three minutes left in the half and did not return until well into the second half of play. The McKinley product tried to play, but crumpled to the floor in pain after only a few minutes and did not return.
"I am sorry that Tyrus (Thomas) couldn't be out there with us," Davis said. "But that's what we have to deal with."
Tyrus Thomas left the game with 4:46 and LSU trailing by one 56-55. But Tasmin Mitchell, who finished the game with 10 points, drained a pair of free throws giving LSU a 57-56 lead. The Tigers never trailed again, however, Kentucky tied the score twice again.
"Tonight, we came out and gave it all we had, irregardless of the pain we were in," Darrel Mitchell said.
Morris led all Wildcat scorers with 17 points. Sparks was the only other Kentucky player in double figures with 13 points.
SINGING THE BLUES
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