94 feet: When David (UK) took down Goliath (LSU)

The No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats (20-1, 6-0 Southeastern Conference) take a trip to the bayou to take on the LSU Tigers (12-8, 2-4 SEC) in an afternoon SEC matchup. Kentucky is coming off a nice 13-point road win at Georgia, while the Tigers gave No. 18 Mississippi State all it could handle in a close 76-71 road loss last time out.

Cal and the Cats as No. 1

John Calipari is one of only two coaches (Frank McGuire is the other) to lead three teams to a No. 1 ranking. Cal has taken UMass, Memphis and Kentucky to the top of the rankings while accruing a 45-7 record as the coach of the No. 1 team — 32-4 at UMass, 9-1 at Memphis and 4-2 at Kentucky.

Kentucky is 157-25 playing as the No. 1 team in the country. UK, when ranked No. 1 in the country, has played LSU a total of seven times, with the Cats coming out on top in six of those contests. The only Tiger win versus a No. 1 UK team came in February of 1978, a 95-94 overtime thriller.

This season as No. 1, UK is 3-1.

Series history

Kentucky leads the all-time series with LSU 80-24. In games played in Baton Rouge, La., the Cats hold a 28-16 advantage. UK’s last visit to LSU, in 2010, resulted in an 81-55 Wildcat win.

The UK/LSU series began in 1933. Between ’33 and 1960 Kentucky won 19 consecutive games in the series. After an LSU victory in ’60, UK then went on another roll, reeling off 16 straight wins, giving the Cats a commanding 35-1 series lead in 1972. Since then, UK has a 45-23 series edge.

Series superlatives

  • Dan Issel dropped in 51 points against the Tigers in February of 1970, setting the UK mark for most points scored against LSU. In the process, Issel netted 19 made baskets, tying him with UK All-America Bob Burrow, who also made 19 baskets versus the Tigers in January of 1956.
  • Issel also holds the UK record for most rebounds when facing LSU with 29 in February of 1969.
  • With 13 assists in March of 1995, Anthony Epps set the UK record for dimes against the Tigers.
  • John Pelphrey, with seven steals in February of 1990, holds the Big Blue record for most pilfers against LSU.
  • Andre Riddick blocked nine shots against the Tigers in March of 1993, setting the standard for blocks against LSU.
  • With seven 3-pointers against the Tigers in January of 1990, Jeff Brassow set the UK record for most treys against LSU.

David vs. Goliath

On Feb, 15, 1990, No. 9 LSU (19-4, 9-3) paid a visit to Rupp Arena to take on the Kentucky Wildcats (12-10, 8-5), a team short on NBA talent, but long on execution and desire.

LSU, led by a duo of All-America players, 7-foot-1 Shaquille O’Neal and 6-foot-1 point guard Chris Jackson (who would later change his name to Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf), along with intimidating big man Stanley Roberts, entered the contest as heavy favorites. But from the opening tip, the future Unforgettables (Richie Farmer, John Pelphrey, Deron Feldhaus and Sean Woods), plus Reggie Hanson and Derrick Millar, a team most thought would not win five games all year, played with precision execution, and took the game straight to the more talented Tigers

The Cats steadily built a lead behind the strong inside play of Feldhaus and Hanson. Both were 6-7 and battled O’Neal to a draw, opening up the perimeter for Millar, a shooting guard, as the Cats roared to a 41-18 lead. The Kentucky defense also played a huge roll in the Wildcats’ offensive efficiency, as UK’s lively press and choking half-court defense forced 17 first-half turnovers, many leading to breakaways and open 3-point opportunities for the home team.

At this point, Rupp Arena, filled with a record-setting 24,301 full-throttled souls, was rocking with thunderous adulation, as Cat fans roared with approval. So frustrated at UK’s stout and seemingly ubiquitous first half defense, and I’m sure, the inability to hear himself think, Stanley Roberts drew a technical foul after hitting/batting the ball toward an official.

By halftime the Cats had only six miscues (to the 17 LSU committed), resulting in a 16-4 Wildcat advantage in points off turnovers. Jackson scored 16 first-half points for the Tigers, as they trailed UK by a count of 48-36.

With Millar drilling 3-pointers and Feldhaus having a career day against O’Neal, the Cats held serve for most of the second half. Then two things happened: 1.) UK began to lose a bit of steam as several players surpassed their usual minutes played, and 2.) Jackson began lighting up the Rupp scoreboard.

Hitting long-range shots from all over the court, Jackson nailed three 3-pointers the first 17 minutes of the second half and scored on countless midrange shots, as he kept the Tigers on the verge of being in the game. But with just less than six minutes remaining, O’Neal and his 21 rebounds having just fouled out, and the Cats up comfortably 87-70, Jackson went from nearly unstoppable, to unconscious.

“Coach kept yelling and screaming to get behind the NBA line to guard him. I thought, ‘Hey, I am. This guy’s at the hash mark,’ ” said UK guard Sean Woods about Jackson’s propensity to take it and make it from unlimited distance.

At the 2:46 mark, Jackson drilled a 3-pointer off the LSU fast break, bringing the Tigers to within 92-86, the closest they had been to the Cats since the first six minutes of the game. Kentucky responded to LSU’s tight, overplaying defense, as Feldhaus scored on a nice backdoor cut. Jackson answered the Kentucky layup with a made 3-pointer from the corner to bring the Tigers to within two at 94-92 with 1:12 left, but Farmer sealed the deal for the Cats by making six straight free throws over the final 1:02, giving the Wildcats one of the all-time most unlikely victories ever, by a score of 100-95.

After the game, Farmer said about the six pressure-packed free throws he made in the final minute, “That wasn’t anything new. I acted like I was at practice. It didn’t bother me. I liked it.”

Jackson scored a game-high 41-points (on 29 shots taken), but a gaggle of Wildcats had huge days, led by Millar (29 points), Feldhaus (24-points and 10 rebounds), Woods (12 points and seven assists), Hanson (10 points and 12 rebounds) and Pelphrey (seven steals).

Tipoff is scheduled for 4 p.m. ET with television by the SEC Network. Stay tuned to CoachCal.com as Eric Lindsey and UK assistant coach John Robic will be along with a comprehensive scouting report on LSU.

Coach Cal says

On being 3-0 in SEC road games …
“They have all been good games. Georgia came out and made six out of eight whatever they did. Tennessee came out and we were down in that game, Auburn came out and we were down in that game. They all come at us, they are all big games and the teams are going to play well. It’s good for us, it makes us better. I expect LSU to play a great game, I expect them to come out and play better than they have all year. (They will) be physical, run their stuff, execute, they’ll play fast.mA lot of times you say they are holding people under 60, it’s because they are scoring a little bit over 60. A team that holds it can keep the other team from scoring more. If you are playing faster the other team is going to score more because they are going to get more opportunities. But they do a good job of controlling the games, similar to Georgia.”

On Kentucky being on its own level …
“You always want to be on your own playing field. One of the reasons we don’t have to talk about another program or I don’t even have to worry about who is recruiting a guy is because I don’t care. I tell the family when we come in, ‘You will not hear me or my staff talk about another program and if we do talk about another program it will be positive about that coach or that program.’ We don’t worry about anybody else, if the kid wants something like this then we will get him and if they look at this and say it is too much then they aren’t coming here. What you try to do in all that you are doing is separate so that you are on a playing field where you present yourself and ask the kid if it is something he’d like or not. In everything you do, whether it’s facilities, academics, in the community, social media, connecting your fans. I’ve said that since I’ve been here, you’re at Kentucky, let’s get this separated. Why are we on all these TV games? Because we rate so high, we rate highest in the country. Everybody wants to watch us.”