By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky coach John Calipari was just a bit sarcastic during his ESPN halftime interview after his team missed 26 of 38 shots overall and eight of 10 3-pointers.
“The whole point is to put the ball in the basket. When you miss every shot and are up by one (29-28), I am whistling and skipping (to the locker room),” Calipari said before adding that at some point his players had to realize they had been shooting basketball their whole lives.
Well the second half at LSU it seemed like Kentucky made every shot. It was 17 of 23 over (73.9 percent) from the field, 7-for-8 (87.5 percent) from 3-point range and nine of 13 from the foul line. Nate Sestina had not made a 3-pointer since Jan. 29 and he had THREE in the second half that pushed UK’s lead to 15 points with just over five minutes left.
“I am not sure LSU was particularly concerned about UK’s 3-point shooting. Kentucky only makes about 4.5 per game and usually burns you inside,” ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said after UK’s 79-76 win.
He was right, too, as UK was 2-for-22 from 3-point range Saturday against Ole Miss. Throw in the first half and UK had missed 28 of its last 32 3-pointers before catching fire in the second half. However, LSU coach Will Wade said that was not exactly right.
“We left him wide open,” Wade said about Sestina’s shooting. “He’s a good college player. Of course he’s going to make open shots.”
Calipari said it wasn’t hard to see why UK won.
“We made shots (in the second half). It’s hard to win a basketball game and it is really demoralizing and you run good stuff and not only do you miss but you miss it badly,” Calipari said. The second half we come back and made shots and we get up 15 because they made shots.”
The Cats wilted a bit defensively the final five minutes without the pressure from point guard Ashton Hagans, who went out with a thigh injury, and gave up 24 points. Calipari said after the game he knew “nothing” about Hagans’ injury status.
Kentucky hung on to win in large part due to Immanuel Quickley. He had 21 points — his sixth 20-point game of the season — along with six assists, four rebounds and three steals — and only one turnover in 37 minutes.The sophomore guard hit all five shots he took the second half.
Freshman Tyrese Maxey went 5-for-15 from the field but got some key points late and ran the offense with Hagans out. He had four rebounds, three assists and one of UK’s 11 blocked shots.
“It was fun. Crowd was involved, back and forth,” Maxey said on the UK Radio Network after the game. “We went on a bit of a run. Nate Sestina was really big.”
Maxey said late in the game that assistant coach Kenny Payne told the team LSU would get tired and Quickley reminded the players that is why they did so much conditioning work.
“And he was right,” Maxey said. “All the hard work we put in prepared us for this.”
Wade gave much of the credit to Calipari for changing his offense at halftime and simply spread LSU’s defense out when UK scored 50 points.
“That’s why he’s a Hall of Famer,” Wade said.