LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) The so-called “reboot” that Kentucky coach John Calipari suggested for his struggling team might take more work than he expected.
He made clear that a long practice is in store after the 15th-ranked Wildcats nearly blew a big lead against LSU and threatened to overshadow a breakout game for freshman forward Wenyen Gabriel.
Gabriel scored a career-high 23 points, Malik Monk also had 23 and Kentucky withstood a late LSU rally for a 92-85 victory Tuesday night.
The Wildcats (19-5, 9-2 Southeastern Conference) won for just the second time in five games and had to withstand the Tigers’ rally from a 25-point deficit over the final 8:47, a charge led by Antonio Blakeney’s 22 second-half points. His 3-pointer with 14 seconds remaining made it a two-possession game.
Monk’s free throw with 8 seconds left sealed that hard-fought win that followed Kentucky’s 22-point loss at No. 17 Florida on Saturday and came a day after the coach hinted at the restart on his radio show.
The outcome was the upside of a contest that suggested there’s plenty of room for improvement for the Wildcats.
“You saw what I wanted, and I thought we did some good stuff,” Calipari said. “Eight minutes to go, I don’t know we were tired or reverted back (to bad habits). It might have been a combination of both. If I could practice tonight, we would (go) three hours until people puked. ... That’s the old days, I can’t do that.
“But we will go three hours (on Wednesday) and if anybody says they can’t go, they won’t make the trip to Alabama.”
Calipari’s praise of Gabriel also included examples that he can grow as well.
Gabriel provided the initial offensive boost and finished 7 of 11 from the field including three 3-pointers to beat his previous career best of 15. He also grabbed eight rebounds, including three offensive, as Kentucky controlled the boards 40-26.
“I’m a lot more confident,” said Gabriel, who fouled out with 19 seconds left. “Especially once you make a couple and know yourself and know you can shoot and just get more comfortable. That boosted my confidence.”
Monk bounced back from an 11-point outing to make 8 of 15 from the field with four 3s. De’Aaron Fox had 16 points and Isaiah Briscoe 14 for Kentucky.
Blakeney made 12 of 19 shots for a season-high 31 points and Brandon Sampson added 17 for the Tigers (9-14, 1-10). LSU shot 63 percent in the second half and 50 percent overall but lost their 10th straight for the first time since 2011.
Said Blakeney, “I just wanted to make some buckets or some plays for my teammates.”
LSU: The Tigers made several runs at the Wildcats thanks to Blakeney and Sampson, who combined to make 18 of 31 from the field and 5 of 11 from 3-point range. In fact, Blakeney’s eight straight points in the final minute included two 3s and made things interesting when the game seemed in hand for Kentucky. Perimeter shooting was key for the Tigers, who made 8 of 11 after halftime and 10 of 23 overall (44 percent).
“Some shots went down for us in the second half that did not fall for us in the first half when we had some looks,” coach Johnny Jones said.
The Tigers were no match on the glass against Kentucky, allowing 14 offensive rebounds alone.
Kentucky: The Wildcats bounced back from shooting a season-low 38 percent at Florida by hitting 49 percent and controlling the boards after the Gators outrebounded them 54-29. At times the reboot showed promise as they committed just four first-half turnovers and played solid defense. But every time the Wildcats seemed in control, mistakes and defensive breakdowns followed.
“We reverted a little bit and it cost us some points,” said forward Bam Adebayo, who had 9 rebounds and 8 points.
Kentucky made 21 of 26 free throws to tie a season-best percentage (81). The Wildcats also improved to 38-8 under Calipari in bounce-back games after losses.
THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS
Jones opened his postgame interview expressing concern for southeastern Louisiana residents after tornadoes there injured about 20 people and damaged or destroyed property.
“A lot of people have been affected,” he said, “and I just want them to know we’ll be praying for them tonight.”
LSU: Hosts Arkansas on Saturday night, seeking its third series win in four meetings.
Kentucky: Visits Alabama on Saturday. The Wildcats have won the last six against the Crimson Tide.
This corrects time of score to 14 seconds left and Monk’s free throw to 8 seconds left.