LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Julius Randle couldn’t remember if anyone was guarding him in those final seconds because he was so focused on positioning himself to grab any missed shot.
And when James Young’s blocked shot ended up in his hands, the Kentucky freshman’s only thought was putting it in the basket quickly. A wild celebration soon followed that neither Randle nor the young Wildcats will forget because of the work required in their most satisfying victory.
Randle had just eight points but scored in the lane with 3.9 seconds remaining in overtime to give No. 18 Kentucky a hard-earned 77-76 victory over LSU on Saturday.
After Andre Stringer’s jumper with 12 seconds left gave LSU a 76-75 lead, Tigers forward Jordan Mickey blocked Young’s shot on the other end. Randle was able to grab the loose ball and hit the game-winning short jumper, sparking a delirious celebration with his Wildcats teammates piling on top of him on LSU’s end of the court.
Of the winning shot Randle said, “James was being aggressive just like he was the whole game. He did a great job getting into the paint. If he put it on the rim, I was going to get it. They had been trying to box me out the whole game.
“Luckily, that one fell right into my hands,” he said.
Randle’s shot provided a fitting end to a tight, tense game personified by the back-and-forth overtime period before Kentucky (21-6, 11-3 Southeastern Conference) made good use of its last possession for an emotional win that earned a season split with LSU (16-10, 7-7).
Randle finished with eight points and 15 rebounds for Kentucky, which got 21 points from Aaron Harrison and 20 from Young, including six in OT.
Johnny O’Bryant III and Anthony Hickey both had 20 points for LSU, which fell to 3-4 since beating Kentucky last month. The Tigers seemed poised to steal another victory from the Wildcats, leading four times in the extra period including Stringer’s jumper that briefly hushed an anxious Rupp Arena crowd.
Kentucky snatched it right back by pushing the ball upcourt to create a moment where its star player did what he does best, going to the basket.
“You have to give credit to Kentucky at the end,” LSU coach Johnny Jones said. “It came down to a loose-ball war, and they were able to get that big loose ball at the end. They had a big tip-in to finish it.”
Kentucky once again won the rebounding (43-40) along with dominating the paint (50-28), but this time the Wildcats won after squandering those advantages in last month’s loss in Baton Rouge when the Tigers shot nearly 52 percent.
LSU shot just 40 percent this time, slightly worse than Kentucky’s 42 percent. The Tigers were 7 of 17 from 3-point range with Hickey, a Hopkinsville native, making four.
Kentucky forced Stringer into a turnover as the seconds ran out, much to the delight of a sellout crowd that endured more than its share of nervous moments.
Here’s why: The game featured 11 ties and 11 lead changes, and even when either team seemed on the verge of making it a two-possession game late in the second half and in overtime, the momentum and score quickly swung the other way.
Young’s determined play in overtime kept Kentucky close, setting the stage for the pivotal moment that almost belonged to him before Randle was there to finish it off.
Just as he was expected to.
“I was telling him in every huddle, just get an offensive rebound to win the game,” coach John Calipari said. “He was in a mud wrestling match. Just release, go run and get the ball. He just released it, grabbed it, stuck it in. We win.”