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Blown lead. Buzzer-beater. Court storm. Kentucky basketball let one get away at LSU.

Wednesday night was a moment for those clad in gold, purple and white to linger inside the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

For the sparse, yet vocal, crowd of more than 9,000 that roared the Tigers on to a buzzer-beating 75-74 comeback win over No. 17 Kentucky. For LSU sophomore Tyrell Ward, whose layup at the horn confirmed the Tigers’ second straight comeback win over a ranked opponent. And for the LSU students — led by star women’s basketball player Angel Reese — who piled onto the court following Ward’s heroics, marking the first proper court storming at the PMAC since the Tigers won the SEC regular-season title in 2006.

And for John Calipari and Kentucky basketball, perhaps Wednesday will mark a moment to reflect. The Wildcats (18-8 overall and 8-5 in SEC games) will wonder how a 15-point second-half lead slipped away in less than six minutes, turning a decidedly one-sided game back into a back-and-forth affair.

The closing seconds themselves got scrutiny from Calipari during an incredibly brief postgame press conference in which he made an opening statement, only took two questions from media members and spoke for about three and a half minutes in total.

After UK’s Adou Thiero rejected Jordan Wright on a drive to the rim with about two seconds left, Wright kept his composure and lobbed the ball to Ward, who rose in the paint to finish in the middle of a sea of Wildcats for the game-winning score for LSU (14-12, 6-7).

LSU guard Jordan Wright (6) is blocked by Kentucky guard Adou Thiero (3) at the end of Wednesday’s game, but the Tigers’ Tyrell Ward ended up with the ball and made the game-winner.
LSU guard Jordan Wright (6) is blocked by Kentucky guard Adou Thiero (3) at the end of Wednesday’s game, but the Tigers’ Tyrell Ward ended up with the ball and made the game-winner.
LSU forward Tyrell Ward (15) celebrates scoring the game-winning shot in a 75-74 victory over Kentucky before students and fans rush the court at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
LSU forward Tyrell Ward (15) celebrates scoring the game-winning shot in a 75-74 victory over Kentucky before students and fans rush the court at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

“Little helter-skelter. I like this disorganization out there of the defense,” LSU coach Matt McMahon said afterward. “I thought it gave us a better chance. Obviously, it didn’t work out that way, but nonetheless. I thought just relentless effort.”

But it was blowing that substantial second-half lead — UK led by 15 points with 19:11 to go, and the contest was tied with 13:59 remaining — that can be identified as the root reason why Kentucky’s prospects at a 50th SEC regular-season title are now on life support. (Three of UK’s remaining five games are against teams currently ranked No. 33 or higher in KenPom.)

“We had been getting 50-50 balls. We reverted a little bit today,” Calipari said, noting that LSU was fresh off a 16-point second-half comeback win at South Carolina on Saturday.

“… They (out)toughed us for those balls, which were the difference in the game.”

Wednesday’s loss is puzzling on a myriad of fronts for the Cats: Backcourt players Antonio Reeves (25) and Rob Dillingham (23) supplied more than enough offensive juice themselves, but they got next to no help from their teammates.

UK players not named Reeves or Dillingham combined for just 11 made baskets, including a scoreless night from point guard D.J. Wagner, who missed all five of his shots.

Fifth-year forward Tre Mitchell missed his second straight game, and fourth overall this season, due to injury.

Ward’s late score erased the temporary postgame headlines that would have been Dillingham’s: He made a corner jumper with 13 seconds left to put Kentucky up one, and scored 21 points in the second half.

“In the first half, I just wasn’t really comfortable. In the second half, I knew I had to play regular for us to be in the game,” Dillingham said. “… I feel like I played alright, but could have done way better.”

Kentucky’s first-half defensive effort was stellar: UK limited LSU to just 0.818 points per possession in the opening period, a number on par with LSU’s worst offensive outing of the season and UK’s best defensive showing in SEC play. The Tigers finished the game with 1.136 points per possession, a statistic substantially boosted by shooting 48.5% from the field and 55.6% from 3-point range in the second half.

“There’s scheme slippage. And that’s what happens with young teams … That stuff happens,” Calipari said. “And it seems to happen at the wrong time.”

To Calipari’s point about toughness, the tone of Wednesday’s game also changed on the glass in the second half: LSU outrebounded Kentucky by 10 over the final 20 minutes. LSU won the rebounding battle for the game, 38-30.

The most confounding element of the result though is how comfortably the Cats looked on Saturday night when handing then-No. 14 Auburn their first home loss in more than a calendar year, in a far more intimidating road environment.

A Kentucky basketball season full of paradoxes was confirmed, once more, on Wednesday.

A high-scoring team has, at times this season, been unable to count on consistent scoring production from beyond a handful of players.

The Wildcats spent five halves of basketball reversing a previously established narrative about their porous defense, only to surrender 48 second-half points to LSU: This marked the sixth time this season that UK has allowed at least 48 points in a half.

“We kind of let go a little bit,” Reeves said, referencing UK players losing track of their main defensive assignments.

And most importantly, UK’s NCAA Tournament résumé has had another hole shot through it: Kentucky now has losses this season to teams currently ranked 107 (UNC Wilmington), 75 (LSU), 55 (South Carolina) and 52 (Texas A&M), which — combined — will erase a lot of the positives that come with also having wins over KenPom No. 5 (Auburn) and No. 10 (North Carolina).

Calipari didn’t linger Wednesday night.

He left his brief postgame remarks without fielding any questions about how Kentucky will try to pick itself off the floor for Saturday’s marquee home game against SEC-leading Alabama (19-7, 11-2). In fact, he didn’t stick around long enough to even be asked the question.

(Dillingham and Reeves combined to answer six questions from media members postgame, compared to Calipari’s two).

Calipari chose to focus on his team losing out on 50-50 balls, and in particular during the ending sequence, with the few words he did say.

“You can’t win, don’t tell me about your offense if you’re not going to come up with 50-50 balls. You can’t win,” Calipari said.

“I’ve got to watch the tape and say, ‘Who did not grab that ball?’ The winning ball. Who didn’t grab it? And why?’”

Students and fans rush the court after LSU defeated Kentucky 75-74 at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Students and fans rush the court after LSU defeated Kentucky 75-74 at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Next game

No. 13 Alabama at No. 17 Kentucky

When: 4 p.m. Saturday

TV: CBS-27

Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1

Records: Alabama 19-7 (11-2 SEC), Kentucky 18-8 (8-5)

Series: Kentucky leads 116-41

Last meeting: Alabama won 78-52 on Jan. 7, 2023, in Tuscaloosa, Ala.