You could feel the momentum in LSU's favor on Saturday.
Coming off a rare SEC road win, the Tigers returned home to face a struggling Kentucky squad. Fresh off an 85-73 upset of defending national champion Florida, LSU was primed to add to the Wildcats hardships.
After leading at halftime, the Tigers (9-15, 2-8 SEC) fell behind in the second half and eventually lost 67-63 to Billy Gillispie's Wildcats on Saturday at the Pete Maravich Center.
Kentucky (13-10, 7-3) was coming off the worst loss in program history. The Wildcats dropped a 93-52 loss to Vanderbilt last Wednesday. Gillispie and Co. weren't about to lose two in a row.
"My hat's off to Kentucky," said LLSU coach Butch Pierre. "After losing to Vanderbilt, they came in and they played hard and executed and had a great second half. They got something out of their team with two seniors that they probably needed on the road."
After trailing 30-28 at the half, Kentucky mounted a 13-3 run, in which LSU didn't score a field goal for over seven minutes.
The Wildcats held an eight-point, 41-33 advantage at the 14:42 mark of the second half, their largest of the day.
But LSU rallied back and took a two-point, 51-49 lead on an Anthony Randolph tip-in with 7:56 to play.
However, it didn't take Kentucky long to regain the upper hand. After Patrick patterson tied the game at 51-51, a 3-pointer by Ramel Bradley with 6:36 left gave UK a 54-51 lead, one which the Wildcats never relinquished.
The Wildcats had some anxious moments, coming up empty down the stretch on three straight possessions after a Crawford field goal put Kentucky up 61-57. But LSU which started the game strong and led for much of the first half couldn't capitalize.
After coming to within two points, 61-59, Terry Martin missed a 3-point shot. One possession later, Anthony Randolph had the chance to tie the score, instead he made one-of-two free throws to leave the Tigers back by one.
LSU forced Bradley into a turnover and Pierre called a quick timeout with 54 seconds remaining in the game. The Tigers ran a designed play to Thornton, who missed a hurried three-pointer from the top of the key.
"He kind of rushed thing; it was a double-stack screen up top for him and he was supposed to turn the corner and look for Anthony Randolph on the post-and-lob," Pierre said. "If he didn't have hit, he was going to pull the ball back out and run something else. I learned something from that and I'll never put Marcus in that situation again. If I had been coaching them the whole year that wouldn't have happened, trust me. They also had a one point lead and Marcus went down on the other end and, I guess out of frustration, he fouled a guy in a situation where there was time to score."
Thornton said he liked the look, although the shot looked forced.
"It was a good look but it rolled off my hand funny," Thornton said. "I thought it still had a chance but it fell short. I had to get over it and get back on defense."
Kentucky's Derrick Jasper extended the Wildcats' lead back to three points, 63-60, with two free throws with 27 seconds left.
The final 10 seconds featured a flurry of scoring, including four free throws by Bradley.
Martin knocked down a 3-pointer in between hitting the trey with five second left to cut the lead to two. But Bradley put the finishing touches on the victory with his final two free throws.
"It's a great win for us against a team that's probably playing with their greatest level of confidence all year long," Gillispie said. "They're a hard team no matter what their confidence level is. They're long and athletic. They have the ability to shoot the basketball and rebound the ball and put it back in. Their defense has been good all year. It's a huge win for us."
Again at home, LSU was unable to match the Wildcats in the shooting department as Kentucky shot 56 percent in the second half (14-of-25) to LSU's 11-of-31 (35.5 percent).
In SEC home games, LSU was shooting 19 percent outside the arc and against the Wildcats, LSU hit just 5-of-18 shots (27.8 percent) compared to Kentucky's 7-of-14 (50 percent).
Joe Crawford led Kentucky with 21 points, while Ramel Bradley had 16 points and six assists and Patrick Patterson had 14 points.
"He is a strong and physical guy," Thornton said of Crawford. "When I got fatigued he started to go to the goal. He is a veteran player and he did what he is supposed to do."
Randolph, the LSU freshman from Dallas, had his sixth double double of the year with 24 points and 14 rebounds to go with four steals in 38 minutes. He had 22 points in the win at Florida on Wednesday.
"We wanted this one real bad," Randolph said. "We just couldn't know down the shots there at the end."
The only other player in double figures was Terry Martin with 12. The SEC's leading scorer, Marcus Thornton, was held to just nine points on 4-of-14 shooting.
Garrett Temple scored eight points, including a pair of three pointers. Lost in the scoring on Saturday was Chris Johnson. After a 19-point performance at Florida, he managed just four points on 2 of 9 shooting.
"We missed his 11 to 15 points," Pierre said. "That was the difference in the game."
A crowd of 9,870 watched Saturday's game, the biggest turnout for a home game this season. In attendance were former Tiger All-Americans Shaquille O'neal and Tyrus Thomas, along with former coach Dale Brown. The players were in Louisiana for the NBA All-Star weekend in New Orleans.
"We are going to stay focused and play hard," Pierre said. "I am proud of these guys. I am out there with them when these games are going on. I feel the same way they do after this loss."