By LARRY VAUGHT
This has been such a strange season for Kentucky that there was no way coach John Calipari was going to let LSU get off a potential game-tying, 3-point shot.
Who could blame him considering that it might have taken a heads-up move by associate coach John Robic seconds before to keep UK in position to claim a 75-70 win.
Calipari had Archie Goodwin foul Anthony Hickey before he could take a shot after Kyle Wiltjer hit two free throws with 3.1 seconds left to play to give UK a 73-70 lead. Alex Poythress, UK’s player of the game with 20 points and 12 rebounds, got Hickey’s miss, made two free throws after getting fouled and got a huge hug and smile from the UK coach.
His assist came with 3.9 seconds left before UK inbounded the ball after the Tigers got a follow shot by Johnny O’Bryant to cut the lead to 71-70. After the timeout, the Cats sent Archie Goodwin, Poythress, Wiltjer, Ryan Harrow and Julius Mays on the court. But Nerlens Noel also stepped on the court and seemed to be on the floor as UK inbounded the ball before he was pulled off by Robic.
LSU coach Johnny Jones immediately protested and the officials conferred. They did not review the play and refused comment after the game to a pool reporter after indicating they would explain what they saw — or didn’t see.
Did Jones think Noel was on the floor when play started, a move that would have resulted in a technical foul against UK and free throws for LSU?
“That is what it looked like to me. I thought that was what was going on,” said Jones. “I wasn’t sure. We asked the refs if there was any way possible (to check). I thought the ball was in play. It didn’t happen. We have ample opportunities prior to that to make plays. I don’t think that was a game changer there.”
LSU did have opportunities, but that call could have been not only a game-changer, but a season-changer for Kentucky. The Wildcats are clinging to the NCAA Tournament bubble. They have already lost at home to Texas A&M and blown a big lead at Alabama. Now they face road games at Mississippi and Texas A&M. Losing another home game would have been disastrous.
Calipari said he “didn’t see all that stuff” with Noel.
“I just know when the ball was handed, we had five guys on the court,” Calipari said
However, he also knows UK was dangerously close to perhaps giving a win a way.
“I think we got sloppy in that timeout, and I got on my staff after the game and said, ‘You need to be responsible for that.’ So that may have happened, but again he was off the court,” Calipari said.