When LSU jumped out to a 6-1 lead with five minutes down, Kentucky head coach John Calipari went to his bench in an attempt to slow the Tigers from moving any further ahead.
In front of a crowd of 13,000-plus – the largest the PMAC had seen this season – a winless LSU side was ready to throw everything at the nation’s No. 3 team.
“My guys have to realize that this is there Super Bowl,” Calipari said. “I watched tapes of Tasmin [Mitchell] when he went for 38 against Auburn, and we knew that they were capable of playing games close. I look at what [LSU head coach] Trent [Johnson] is doing here, undermanned; and they have had a chance to win every game that I have seen. It may be one of the best jobs he has done in coaching.”
On Saturday afternoon, the undermanned Tigers – passed the five-minute mark – proved to be no match for a Wildcat team that showed why they were one of the nation’s elite squads. Across the final 15 minutes of the first half, Kentucky scored 41 of the 49 points.
“They hit a bit of a buzz saw today in our team,” Calipari said. “We’re pretty big, and I think that bothered them.”
While freshman John Wall was held to a season-low six points on 2-for-9 shooting, the bodies down low got the work done for the visitors. DeMarcus Cousins had 19 points and 13 rebounds for his sixth consecutive double-double, while Patrick Patterson added 16 points and five rebounds.
“The guys on Kentucky's team are absolute animals,” said LSU’s Bo Spencer. “Cousins. Patterson. All of them are physical. All of them are big and wide. They're hard to get around. I'm so impressed with Cousins because he's just a freshman, and he plays like he's been playing on the collegiate level forever. They're just so big, and they really want the ball.”
Kentucky outscored LSU 46-22 in the paint, outrebounded them 53-31 and held the Tigers without a fast-break or second-chance point in the game.
“It was pure physicality, strength and being better players,” Johnson said. “Storm [Warren] was doing everything he could to put a body on guys. Garrett [Green] is Garrett. He got manhandled a couple of times.
“We knew going in it was going to be tough going make or miss and getting in the zone just because of the quickness of the ball and their length,” he added. “Eric Bledsoe is your shortest guy at 6-1, 185 pounds, and everyone else is 6-6.”
For LSU, the play from the perimeter was just as poor. The Tigers shot less than 10 percent from behind the arc in the first half and less than 20 percent for the game (4-for-22).
Spencer went 9-for-24 for a game-high 25 points, while Mitchell finished with a quiet 10 points and 3 rebounds on 4-for-15 shooting.
“They did a good job of matching Tasmin up with one guy and making it tough for him,” said Johnson. “I thought Bo showed a lot of courage. At times there were bad shots, but in those situations, that was probably the best shot we could get.”
Off the court, the afternoon was highlighted by the jersey retirement of LSU All-American Durand 'Rudy' Macklin, who led the Tigers to the NCAA Final Four in 1981. Macklin's No. 40 jersey joins Tiger legends Pete Maravich, Shaquille O'Neal, Bob Pettit and Seimone Augustus in the PMAC rafters.
The loss was LSU’s 12th over their last 13 contests, including nine straight in conference. The Tigers return to action Wednesday at Arkansas. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. CST.