'Unbelievable, winning that way in a place with so much prestige' - LSU's Skylar Mays
BATON ROUGE — LSU played "Taps" for Kentucky and may be tap dancing its way deep into the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 13 years.
LSU's Kavell Bigby-WIlliams tapped in a missed layup by teammate Skylar Mays just off the rim and just in time to give No. 21 LSU an historic, 73-71 upset of No. 5 Kentucky in front of 23,500 at Rupp Arena on Tuesday night before a national television audience on ESPN.
Bigby-Williams' tip-in was reviewed to see if it beat the clock, which it did according to replays. Officials by rule could not review the replay to see if Bigby-Williams committed offensive goal tending as such plays are not reviewable. The ball appeared to be off the rim, but still in the cylinder. It was close, but in the end, LSU got the call and the win.
"We were fortunate at the end," LSU coach Will Wade said. "The ball goes off the rim, and we make a play. What they called is what stands. That was a great take by Skylar. Just a tremendous, tremendous win by our guys."
Kentucky coach John Calipari said goal tending calls should be reviewable, but he did not take credit away from LSU.
"Well, this one is easy to go check," he said. "Just go check it. Why would you not? Why would that not be reviewable? I don't want to take anything away from LSU. To come into this building and do what they did down the stretch and make the shots they made, and basically rebound the ball offensively against us, they deserve to win the game."
The Tigers (20-4, 10-1 Southeastern Conference) won at Kentucky (20-4, 9-2 SEC) for the first time since Feb. 28, 2009.
"You hate for it to come down to the last play, but that happens," Calipari said. "You hate that that play becomes questionable, but I will say that it should not take away from what LSU did. They beat us."
The 2008-09 season in which LSU last beat Kentucky in Rupp was the same season the Tigers last won the SEC and advanced in the NCAA Tournament. LSU has not reached beyond the second round of the NCAA Tournament since 2006 when it got to the Final Four under John Brady - three coaches ago as Trent Johnson and Johnny Jones followed him before Wade.
"We haven't had time digest all of this," Wade said. "But we think we've got a very, very good team. I think we were able to prove that tonight. We've grown as the season has gone along, just like Kentucky has. They have an excellent team. We've gotten better, and I think tonight confirmed that to a lot of folks."
Kentucky saw its 10-game winning streak end. LSU also stopped the Wildcats' 18-game home winning streak. Kentucky's last loss in Rupp was on Feb. 6, 2018, to Tennessee.
It was a landmark victory for Wade in just his second season and for the LSU program, which had not defeated a top five team on the road since Jan. 28, 1980, when it beat No. 5 Kentucky, 65-60, and went on to get within a game of the Final Four. The Tigers are now 2-35 all-time against top five teams on the road.
"Well, we're a good team," Wade said incredulously. "Everybody was doubting us, but you can't come in here and be intimidated."
LSU improved to 6-0 on the road in the SEC this season.
"Oh, unbelievable, especially winning that way in a place with so much prestige," Mays said. "We have a ton of respect for Kentucky. Every team that plays them, you mark that on your calendar."
LSU trailed by 29-22 in the first half and by 40-32 at halftime, but came back to take the lead at 58-56 on an inside bucket by freshman forward Emmitt Williams with 8:12 to go. The Tigers extended that to 69-64 on an offensive rebound and layup by freshman forward Naz Reid with 2:12 left. But Kentucky tied it at 69-69 on a jump hook by forward P.J. Washington with 1:10 to play.
Two free throws by point guard Tremont Waters with 20.5 seconds left gave LSU a 71-69 lead, but two free throws by Kentucky's Keldon Johnson tied it 71-71 with six seconds remaining.
LSU in-bounded to Mays, who drove the length of the floor and attempted a layup as time was running out. He missed it, but Bigby-Williams, a senior transfer originally from London, England, was there for the offensive rebound and the score with one tip.
"We work on tip drills every day, and as you can see, it finally went through," Williams said. "I was thinking, 'Dang, I hope we don't go into overtime.' This was a fun game."
Three of LSU's six SEC road wins this season have come in overtime.
"We were able to hang, hang, hang, hang, hang," Wade said. Yes, five times. "We're tough. We played a little bit too much on our heels in the first half. We just had to get back to being ourselves."
And that is just a half game behind No. 1 Tennessee (22-1, 10-0 SEC) for first place in the SEC, and one game ahead of Kentucky.
Waters led LSU with 15 points and had five assists. Reid, whom Calipari recruited hard out of Asbury Park, New Jersey, finished with 12 points and seven rebounds. Williams scored 12 points with six rebounds off the bench. Mays added 11 points. Freshman Javonte Smart, whom Calipari recruited out of Scotlandville High near Baton Rouge while he was recruiting Reid, scored eight points off the bench with five assists and four rebounds.
Bigby-Williams scored five points with five rebounds and two blocked shots.
Washington led Kentucky with 20 points and nine rebounds. Freshmen starred for Kentucky as well as the game matched the No. 2 and No. 3 (LSU) freshmen classes in the nation by Rivals.com. Johnson, the No. 4 prep small forward in the nation last year out of South Hill, Virginia, scored 16 points with five rebounds for Kentucky. And Tyler Herro, the No. 8 high school shooting guard in the nation last year out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, had 12 with four assists.
"First of all, I want to say a shout-out to all the guys on the other team," said LSU's Williams, who was the No. 4 prep power forward in the nation last year out of Fort Myers, Florida. "They played a good game, and I've known those guys since high school. And it was amazing to play against them. I know Keldon Johnson - all those guys. They played a great game, but LSU came out with the win."
The Tigers were within striking distance for most of the first half, but fell behind by 40-32 just before the break. LSU had taken a 30-29 lead on a 3-pointer by Mays with 4:40 to go in the first half. Then Kentucky went on an 11-2 run to close the half.
Kentucky dominated LSU in rebounding, 24-14, in the first half, but LSU improved there in the second half, outrebounding Kentucky by 18-15.
Through the game's first five minutes, there were seven lead changes and one tie, setting the stage for a classic thriller.
"It was fun tonight," Williams said. "This was a fun game. No one got hurt. Everyone on my side was happy."
It was just the sixth LSU win at Kentucky in history against 44 losses.
After playing at Georgia at 5 p.m. Saturday on the SEC Network, LSU hosts Florida on Feb. 20 and then hosts No. 1 Tennessee on Feb. 23 at 11 a.m.
"The final chapter's yet to be written," Wade said when asked how far his team can ride such a significant victory. "But we're getting there."