LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky admittedly was in desperation mode when it arrived at Rupp Arena on Saturday night.
The Wildcats, who had dropped three Southeastern Conference games in a row, had lost three times already this season in a building where they hardly lose and were 4-9 for the first time in 94 years.
To top it off, Kentucky was facing an LSU team that itself was desperately trying to put behind it a brutal 30-point loss to Alabama four nights earlier.
In the end, Kentucky was the team that made sure its woes wouldn’t continue. It played loose early in taking a 16-point cushion, then turned LSU away three times in the second half for an 82-69 win.
For one night at least, Kentucky (5-9, 4-3 SEC) looked like the Wildcats of old in taking care of LSU (10-4, 5-3), nearly leading wire-to-wire after a painful last-second one-point loss to Georgia on Wednesday night.
LSU led just once, at 4-2 when Cam Thomas followed his own miss, but that lasted exactly 15 seconds when Kentucky’s Olivier Sarr had a tip-in to even the score.
From that point on, it was all Kentucky except when LSU trimmed the deficit to five on two occasions in the first five minutes of the second half.
“Disappointing night,” Tigers coach Will Wade said. “We obviously got off to a rough start again for the second straight game.”
LSU, which started 2 of 9 from the floor against Alabama, started 4 of 15 on Saturday night while Kentucky, which was next-to-last in the SEC in field-goal accuracy at 41.9%, hit 9 of its first 14.
By that time, the Wildcats were off and running with a 23-9 lead.
Included in that scoring barrage were five 3-point baskets in eight attempts even though they were dead last in the league at 28.4% coming in.
“We were a little bit late in our rotations,” Wade said. “We left the rim a couple of times. We must have given up six or seven lob dunks. We can’t leave the rim on the back end of the press like we did.”
But two recurring problems — offensive rebounds and transition defense — haunted the Tigers, especially in the first half.
“A couple of their 3s were off offensive rebounds,” a disappointed Wade said, “and our transition defense … we got beat in transition a little bit.”
While it wasn’t nearly as bad as the Alabama loss in terms of being completely blown out early, LSU, which went into the game leading the SEC with 85.3 points a game, couldn’t keep pace with Kentucky.
While Kentucky scored just 62 points at Georgia, 59 at Auburn and 65 against Alabama in its three-game losing streak and was averaging just 67.0 points, the Wildcats warmed up early.
Brandon Boston buried the first 3-pointer, then Davion Mintz added a couple and Dontaie Allen got in the act with two more to give Kentucky a 26-11 edge at the 11:13 mark.
Kentucky started the game 13 of 21 from the field to blow out to a 35-20 lead and expanded it to 16 points twice before settling for a 49-36 halftime lead.
For the second game in a row, LSU had no answer on defense and trailed at halftime for the third consecutive game.
The Tigers tried to make it a game in the second half. They started the half on a 13-5 run to cut the deficit to five points at 54-49 on a Thomas basket with 15:51 remaining.
But Darius Days picked up his third foul 19 seconds later, and Kentucky started pulling away again with him on the bench.
“He picked up two early fouls against Bama, he picked up the fouls here,” Wade said. “The foul trouble is really, really difficult for him to play through.”
LSU got to within five again with 15:23 to play, but Kentucky responded with a 10-2 run to get it back to a 13-point cushion.
Boston dropped in eight points in a row in that stretch and went on to finish with 18 to lead four Wildcats in double figures.
Keion Brooks had 15 points, while Sarr had 13 and Mintz 11.
Isaiah Jackson came off the bench to pull down 15 rebounds in helping Kentucky to a 46-31 edge over LSU. The Wildcats won the rebounding battle in the second half 27-15.
Trendon Watford had a game-high 26 points in hitting 10 of 20 field-goal attempts, and Thomas finished with 18. Watford also had a double-double with 10 rebounds.
LSU tried one more run and cut it to seven points with 6:37 left on a 3-pointer by Watford, but Kentucky had too much determination and snapped its frustrating three-game losing streak.
“Our guys fought like hell in the second half,” Wade said. “I thought we played extremely well. We fought; we just could never get over the hump.”