With so much going wrong at LSU on Tuesday, Jacob Toppin gave Kentucky a reason to keep believing.
“He was awesome today,” Kellan Grady said of Toppin after the Cats’ 65-60 loss. “He kept us in the game in the first half. … Without him, we wouldn’t have been in the game, in the first half, especially.”
Toppin filled up his stat line. He scored 14 points, matched a career high of eight rebounds, got credit for two assists, made two steals and blocked a shot in a turnover-free 27-plus minutes.
While lamenting what he called a “lackadaisical’‘ turnover, UK Coach John Calipari cited increased maturity as a contributing factor in Toppin’s productive play.
Said Toppin: “That’s been a word that he (has said) since I’ve been on campus …,” Toppin said. “I’m an energy guy on and off the court. … So, sometimes I can get goofy a little bit. I’m, like, not locked in anymore.”
When asked to give an example of what prompts Calipari to cite the need the more maturity, Toppin said. “It could be something as simple as whistling, to be honest. I whistled one time at practice, and he got mad at me and he yelled at me.
“Other things (can be) maybe not paying attention. Maybe laughing. Just simple goofy stuff that I think I need to cut out.
“I’ve always been a person who likes to goof around. But, obviously, I need to change it. And Coach Cal, he’s helping me change it.”
LSU’s Super Bowl?
To explain the zeal with which the opposing teams play against Kentucky, Calipari likes to say a game against UK is a Super Bowl for opponents.
LSU Coach Will Wade did not dispute that assessment, but he said it has a downside.
“Anytime you play Kentucky, it’s a big game,” Wade said Monday. “They’re the class of the league. They’re the blue-blood program in the league. So, anytime you play Kentucky, I think it gets everybody’s attention.”
Then Wade added, “There’s a lot of distractions that come with it, too. Everybody’s family wants to come in for that game. There’s a lot of other BS that comes with it … that you have to manage. Tickets. Everybody tells ’em you’ve got to do this against Kentucky.
“Yeah, they get excited to play Kentucky. But can you channel that the right way?”
Going into the game, Calipari had 795 career coaching victories.
Only 13 coaches have amassed 800 or more Division I victories.
Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski leads the way with 1,182 after Tuesday night’s win against Georgia Tech.
The other five coaches with 900 or more Division I victories are Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim (989 going into Wednesday’s game at Miami), Jim Calhoun (918; he’s now coaching at a D-III school), West Virginia’s Bob Huggins (911 going into Saturday’s game against Kansas State), Roy Willliams (903) and Bob Knight (902).
Coaches with 800-plus Division I victories are Dean Smith (879), Adolph Rupp (876), Jim Phelan (830), Rollie Massimino (816), Coastal Carolina’s Cliff Ellis (807 going into Thursday’s game at Troy), Eddie Sutton (806) and Rick Byrd (805).
Calpari expressed surprise with UK’s 10-for-20 free-throw shooting against LSU. That marked the second straight game UK made half its free throws. UK made four of eight against High Point.
UK came into the game ranked 80th in Division I with a 74.1-percent accuracy shooting free throws.
Oscar Tshiebwe missed all three of his attempts. Lance Ware missed his four free-throw shots.
“Lance has been working, spending time (shooting),” Calpari said. “That’s why I was really surprised he missed all those free throws.”
With the loss Tuesday, Kentucky might take notice of how Wade seemed to try to temper any overreaction to LSU’s loss at Auburn last week.
“We’ll see how we bounce back from the loss …,” the LSU coach said. “This is the SEC. We are going to have losses. That’s just the way it works in a conference as tough as this.”
Calipari was philosophical about UK’s defeat.
“Some guys weren’t ready for the moment,” he said. “But that’s all part of growth.”