BATON ROUGE, La. — No. 1 Kentucky had chastened the sellout crowd at LSU’s Maravich Center by seemingly burying the upset-minded Tigers in a 13-point, second-half hole.
Then Kentucky freshman forward Karl-Anthony Towns went off the John Calipari reservation, like freshmen sometimes do.
With 10:39 left, Towns hung on the rim following a dunk attempt and did a chin-up, just long enough to draw a two-shot technical foul and change the momentum of a game that Kentucky seemingly had in the bag.
“Are you out of your mind?” Calipari screamed from the bench before yanking Towns from the game.
LSU then went on a 21-2 run to take a 66-60 lead, but it was Towns who redeemed himself in the final two minutes to lead Kentucky to a 71-69 victory on Tuesday that kept the Wildcats unbeaten.
Towns hit the go-ahead basket in the lane — a spinning baby hook — to put the Wildcats (24-0, 11-0 SEC) on top 70-69 with 1:29 left.
Then, after guard Andrew Harrison missed a jumper on Kentucky’s next possession, Towns soared for the rebound, which resulted in a free throw by guard Devin Booker with 14.8 seconds left.
“It was a momentum changer,” Towns said of his out-of-mind experience. “I can’t be doing that. I had to let that play go. I just had to put my body on the line and do anything I could to get the win. During moments like that, you think about your brothers and how much they’ve given you. You have to give everything back.”
Calipari said he decided not to call timeout after the technical because he wanted his team — and Towns in particular — to see what hubris could do.
“They’re going to learn their lesson on this,” Calipari said. “We’re not losing in March because of a play like that. For no reason? You’re out of your mind.”
With each basket LSU (17-7, 6-5) scored in its 21-2 run Calipari turned to Towns just to see if he was enjoying the scene.
“It was basket, basket, basket, and then he sunk in his chair,” Calipari said, smiling. “I even said, ‘I hope we lose. Y’all watch this.'”
Kentucky’s defense keyed the comeback from a 69-66 deficit. In the last 3:53, LSU had six possessions and failed to score — committing three turnovers and missing three shots.
One of the most confounding sequences came when LSU had so little ball movement that coach Johnny Jones called timeout with five seconds left on the shot clock. The Tigers also had a chance to tie the score inside the final 10 seconds, but guard Jalyn Patterson passed up a coast-to-coast layup to swing the ball out to guard Keith Hornsby in the left corner.
“(Kentucky) did a good job on the defensive end of getting stops, playing big with no driving lanes and getting the turnovers they needed there late in the game,” Jones said.
LSU had one final chance with 6.6 seconds left, but Hornsby’s final shot was a forced 3-point attempt that never had a chance.
“The guy was all over me, but I got the shot off,” Hornsby said. “It looked on line. It just didn’t fall.”
Forward Willie Cauley-Stein led Kentucky with 15 points, Booker had 14, and guard Andrew Harrison finished with 13.
Calipari said he is using the Wildcats’ recent slim victories as teaching tools.
“I think it’s really important that you get a 10-game winning streak at some point in the year,” Calipari said. “Do you know why I think that? Because at the end of the year, you gotta get six (in a row). Ten is a good number — 24 is better.”
Calipari was greeted in the locker room after the game by his former star pupil Anthony Davis, an All-Star, third-year forward with the New Orleans Pelicans. Davis was able to take Towns aside and tell him to put his chewing out to good use.
Calipari had some fun with Davis, who is being touted as an NBA MVP candidate down the road..
“I told him he couldn’t even have played on this team,” Calipari said.
NOTES: Kentucky coach John Calipari, who celebrated his 56th birthday Tuesday, was presented by his
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