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Wildcats Fall Flat in 87-82 Loss at LSU

This story appears courtesy of KY Forward and is written by James Pennington. KY Forward's coverage of UK Athletics is sponsored by Republic Bank.

Frozen somewhere in the Baton Rouge insta-tundra Tuesday night were the exact qualities that John Calipari and his young Wildcats had said were finally emerging: abstract ideas such as grind and fight more so than execution and other things like execution. The grind and fight weren’t there, and the execution wasn’t there either.

Even on television, Kentucky’s disdain and falling-apart was easily spotted with slumping shoulders and dejected words back to incredulous coaches on the bench. By night’s end, LSU had beaten Kentucky 87-82. The Wildcats never led, they were only tied at 2-2 (and 0-0, for fans of technicalities), and they were never really close despite recovering from a brutal beginning and garbage-point scoring that brought the final score to a benign-seeming five-point margin.

Most viewers at home were spared the grisly visuals. By the time ESPN’s main television feed switched over from the Michigan State-Iowa game that extended into overtime, LSU was leading 22-9. Some may have seen it online, and some may have seen part of it when ESPN News began to show it. Over the first 6 1/2 minutes, the Tigers built a lead as large as 22-6, starting the game 9 of 12 from the field.

The star early was LSU’s Johnny O’Bryant, who had 10 of the Tigers’ first 18 points in the early going. This was a theme.

The Wildcats’ defense picked up, forcing LSU to cool down from the floor. The Tigers made one of their next eight, and Kentucky (15-5, 5-2) got to within two points at 29-27. It was the closest Kentucky would get.

Willie Cauley-Stien had another down game, and a trend is starting to emerge in which the Wildcats’ sophomore struggles when being pushed around by more physical big men. As he struggled against Tennessee’s Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon, he did so Tuesday against Jordan Mickey and O’Bryant. Cauley-Stein finished with three points, six rebounds and no blocks in 16 minutes, yielding minutes in valuable stretches to freshman center Dakari Johnson, a more traditional post-playing center.

Johnson finished with a career-high 15 points on 7-of-8 shooting in 20 minutes, fouling out with a minute to play. Cauley-Stein did not play in the final five minutes.

O’Bryant also had a career high, finishing with 29 points on 12-of-20 shooting.

Kentucky returns to action Saturday on the road against Missouri at 1 p.m. ET on CBS.

KyForward.com did not travel to Baton Rouge, La., for this game. This report was compiled via television coverage.

Photo: KY Forward file