- Saturday, February 25 2006 -
Kentucky - 67 (Head Coach: Orlando Smith) - [Unranked]
Louisiana State - 71 (Head Coach: John Brady) - [Ranked 24th by AP and 24th by ESPN/USA Today]
Halftime Score: Kentucky 37, Louisiana State 32
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|Mississippi 80 - 40|||||Tennessee 80 - 78|
Game Writeup - Written by Matt May; Courtesy of The Cats Pause, (All Rights Reserved)
Kentucky's last chance comes up all error
BATON ROUGE, La. – Kentucky's meandering basketball season has been a collection of head-scratching situations, unconventional coaching moves and uneven performances, but the Cats' latest loss provided perhaps the most perplexing scenario yet.
Trailing by two points with 13 seconds to go, UK coach Tubby Smith called his pet play that beat LSU in the Southeastern Conference Tournament a year ago, but instead of Chuck Hayes being on the receiving end of the set, this time it was Sheray Thomas, a junior forward who averages 4.6 points a game.
Despite getting the ball three feet from the basket with a LSU defender on his hip, Thomas air balled a short right-handed hook shot from the right block. When LSU's titanic Glen Davis corralled the rebound and buried two free throws with 0.8 seconds, LSU had escaped with a 71-67 victory in front of 11,576 fans at the Maravich Assembly Center.
The loss dropped UK to 18-10 overall and 8-6 in league play but also represented a blown opportunity to stamp its NCAA Tournament resumé with the kind of impressive victory that could have sealed a bid. Instead, Smith was left defending his choice of play calls in the final seconds.
"I knew (Sheray) would come open," Smith said. "They were looking for Randolph (Morris). Patrick (Sparks) was wide open but we didn't get the ball to him soon (enough). Sheray was having a good day.
"It was a two-point game. We were trying to tie it, just get a score. It's what we were looking for."
Predictably, Thomas was sullen after the game. Sitting in a folding chair inside a cramped room underneath the seats of the Deaf Dome, the 6-foot-7 Thomas placed the blame for the Cats' devastating defeat on himself.
"I should have went with my first instinct, a left-handed hook shot," Thomas said. "I changed my mind and went with my right and missed completely. It's my fault. Sometimes that's the way it goes.
"I just missed everything. (The play) was there. This one is on me. I lost this game."
Thomas' teammates begged to differ, instead pointing to an avalanche of turnovers and silly fouls over the game's final 10 minutes that crippled UK's chances to hold onto several leads. After turning the ball over just 13 times in their last four halves of basketball (including four in the first half), the Cats gave the ball away 11 times after the break.
"(Sheray) didn't lose the game for us," junior forward Bobby Perry said. "He made a good move he just overshot the basket. He got great position the shot just didn't fall.
"We had tons of chances to win this game. We've got to take care of the ball, stop the silly fouls. You can't commit those."
The loss represented the fifth time in UK's six conference losses that the outcome came down to crucial plays in the game's final moments. Although UK did stick around with several clutch plays – none more so than Sparks' two NBA-length threes in the final 1:11 – the Cats once again made too many miscues down the stretch.
"There is a fine line between winning and losing," Smith said. "I thought we handled (things) the right way but if we could just get a little more discipline and play without fouling…we had a chance, but fouls negate hustle."
UK looked like a team ready to claim its first significant victory with just five minutes remaining when Sparks nailed a shot from the corner after stealing a LSU pass to put UK up 56-53. LSU responded with a putback from Davis – who finished with 28 points and 15 rebounds – to pull within one, which is when the Cats started locking up mentally again.
On its next two possessions the Cats settled for quick three-point attempts from Rajon Rondo and Thomas, two players who had made a combined 10 triples in conference play. LSU sandwiched three free throws around those shots, then added two more from the charity stripe after Thomas blatantly shoved Darnell Lazare in the back going for a rebound on UK's next possession.
Trailing 60-56 and running out of time, Rondo buried an open trey off a pass from Sparks to pull UK within 60-59 with 2:58 remaining, then Morris tied the game with a lay-in off another Sparks feed after LSU had made it 61-59.
Still, UK couldn't keep from fouling LSU, sending the Tigers to the line time and again. Rondo grabbed Darrel Mitchell's jersey 25 feet from the basket, leading to two free throws, the Davis nearly drove Thomas into the floor blocking a shot on the other end. After Davis added two free throws to make it 65-61 with 1:22 left, UK staged one last rally.
Sparks buried a three-pointer off a screen from 22 feet to pull UK within one, but LSU went back up three on a reverse lay-in by Davis. After Davis picked Rondo clean on UK's ensuing possession, Thomas stepped in front of the 310-pounder on the break to draw a charge and give UK another chance. Sparks rattled home another three from nearly the same spot to tie the game with 27.7 seconds, setting up the final plays.
LSU took the lead on two more free throws after official Pat Adams called Ravi Moss was called for reaching in on Darrel Mitchell as he dribbled. Moss vehemently disputed the call.
"It was a terrible call," Moss said. "I came over to help and smacked the ball and got all ball. Disgusting, especially since I didn't foul him. We got hosed on a lot of calls."
The Tigers shot 31 free throws to 10 for UK and scored 14 of their last 16 points at the line. Still, UK had its one final chance, but chose to go with Thomas over its other options. The rest, as they say, is history.
Brandon Stockton (#1) steals the ball from Tyrus Thomas
Randolph Morris shoots over Glen "Big Baby" Davis
LSU's Tyrus Thomas with the finish