BATON ROUGE, La. – Frustrated by the way his undefeated Kentucky Wildcats were playing, coach John Calipari started fist-pumping after LSU baskets and told his players he hoped they'd lose.
But Karl-Anthony Towns redeemed himself after drawing a technical foul for hanging on the basket. His go-head jump hook with 1 minute, 30 seconds left and clutch offensive rebound in the final minute helped No. 1 Kentucky hold off the Tigers, 71-69 on Tuesday.
"I'm proud of Karl because he came back and grew up," Calipari said. "Now I doubt — ever in his life — will he chin-up on a basket, ever again. But that's why I looked like an idiot on the sideline and why I refused to call timeout. I even said, 'I hope we lose. Watch this!'"
Calipari said he wanted to make sure his team won't lose elimination games in March over senseless fouls, so even as his assistants pleaded with him to call timeout, he just watched and joined in the ear-ringing frenzy during a 21-2 LSU run that gave the Tigers a 66-60 lead.
"I'm not worried about losing," at this point of the season, said Calipari, whose team improved to 24-0, and 11-0 in the Southeastern Conference. "This is about us getting better."
As the Tigers stormed in front, Towns squirmed uncomfortably on the bench.
"It was a momentum changer. I can't be doing that," said Towns, who finished with 12 points and 13 rebounds. "During moments like that you think about your brothers and how much they've given you. You give everything back. I was more than happy to repay my brothers' efforts."
It was only narrowly enough. LSU's Keith Hornsby had a shot to win it in the final seconds, but his off-balance three bounced off the outside of the rim.
Willie Cauley-Stein had 15 points for the Wildcats, who can tie a school mark for the best start to a season with a win Saturday vs. South Carolina.
Early in the second half, LSU (17-7, 6-5) appeared to be struggling with Kentucky's height, with Cauley-Stein dunking twice within a few possessions as the Wildcats built a 10-point lead. Harrison then drained a three to give Kentucky its largest lead at 58-45 with 12:46 to go.
LSU responded with its big run, starting with a three by Josh Gray. Hornsby scored eight points during the surge and put LSU up 66-60.
"We've battled through some tough games this year and put ourselves in position to have a shot to win it late," LSU coach Johnny Jones said. "If you play that way throughout, some good things can happen for you. We're constantly growing, and I feel like we took some positive steps tonight. Unfortunately, we just came up a little short."