Feinswog: Bring on Kentucky

by Lee Feinswog
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Feinswog: Bring on Kentucky

The hype started months ago, when a national television analyst said that Kentucky’s biggest hurdle to going undefeated might be at LSU on February 10.

One game at a time?

Before LSU beat Alabama on Saturday night in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, before a really strong crowd announced at 10,355 for a 5 p.m. CT start, the school distributed this statement:

“Advanced ticket sales are currently sold out for Tuesday’s LSU-Kentucky basketball game. Further information on the game will be available through LSUsports.net and media outlets Monday afternoon.

“LSU students are reminded that their section remains free admission with a valid ID on game night, but students are reminded there are a limited number of seats available on a first-come, first-serve basis.”

Moments after LSU won, 71-60, football coach Les Miles tweeted:

The adults have done their part. Rarely in the past 20 years has the community gobbled up tickets for an LSU basketball game so long in advance. Accordingly, this will be the first hard sellout in the new configuration of the PMAC since Xavier came to Baton Rouge in 2009 and things were pretty full.

“This is our first sellout for sure in a long time,” said Eddie Nunez, LSU senior associate athletics director and a hoops guy through and through, heavily involved in all aspects of the program, including game management.

“This means a lot to the program because it’s where we aspire to be. This is where we expected Johnny to bring us to. So this is what it’s about. Our fans have been showing their interest more and more and this is an opportunity to keep winning and show our fans that basketball is back. This is exciting.”

Back in the Shaq days, of course, near sellouts were the norm and kids in tents holding their places in line outside the building were not uncommon. This will be a first for this small, but enthusiastic, group of ardent LSU student fans, the ones whom coach Johnny Jones and the players visit after home victories with high fives all around.

So, kids, if you’re not already in line, it might be too late.

The good news is the game will be shown at 6 p.m. on ESPN and the national audience is assured a raucous environment.

Keith Hornsby, the junior guard who sat out last season after transferring from UNC Asheville, gets it.

“It’s tough not to look too far ahead,” said Hornsby, whose 10 points against Alabama included two 3-pointers. “Obviously this was a game circled on the calendar. We have to approach it and be as amped as we possibly can, but we can’t be too excited and be as focused as we can and play our again and not let their pressure get to us.”

It didn’t hurt that Kentucky did its part, albeit barely, by rallying at Florida a few hours later Saturday to come away with a 68-61 victory. The 23-0 Cats were down nine in the first half and it just didn’t seem right for them not to win and keep the luster on Tuesday’s matchup.

So here they come, top-ranked and unbeaten. And LSU is back on the right track after stumbles at Mississippi State and against Auburn.

“We’re excited about the next game on our schedule and it happens to come against the No. 1 team in the country,” said Jones, the third-year coach who in 1999-2000 served as interim head coach at Memphis. Memphis didn’t retain him, instead hiring John Calipari, who eventually left there to go to Kentucky in 2009.

“Any time the No. 1 team comes to your floor it’s special.”

Now, about that one-game at a time thing. Sure, you have to approach it that way, but don’t think the LSU players haven’t thought about the Kentucky game before Saturday night.

“This is the one we’ve been waiting on all year,” said sophomore Jarell Martin, who scored 12 of his 16 points in the second half against Alabama. “We’ve been looking forward to this game and I can’t wait until Tuesday and get this one started.”

Fellow sophomore Jordan Mickey had another big game with 24 points and 12 rebounds.

“We love competition and we’re looking forward to having Kentucky coming in here,” Mickey said. “We’re a good team and they’re a good team and being a competitor makes me excited to play in a big game.”

And about the sellout?

“We haven’t had one since I’ve been here, so I’m looking forward to seeing what it looks like.”

Or what it sounds like. Hornsby, son of the musician who has been to a concert or two, hopes it’s loud as can be.

“Every time we score you feel the noise and fuel off the energy it gives us,” Hornsby said. “It creates such a huge momentum for us if we know everyone wants us to succeed. I can’t wait. I’ve been looking forward to it for a while.”

LSU-Kentucky is always fun. Former coach Dale Brown made no secret that Kentucky was always his target and some of the stories from his time are legendary. It was against Kentucky that Mike the Tiger (normally a state trooper in disguise) would come down from the PMAC ceiling. One time the pre-game fireworks display was so big a cloud stayed in the room for quite a while as ashes reigned.

More recently, Kentucky’s last two trips here were something else.

Kentucky won big here in 2012, but LSU drew 11,631.

LSU went to Lexington in 2013, but last year, on a nasty cold night when Baton Rouge froze over but the students still came out in force, the Tigers came away with an 87-82 victory. Attendance was listed 12,124 and noted as the 10th-largest crowd in the new configuration.

And then LSU lost at Kentucky later in the season, by a point in overtime.

The PMAC capacity, by the way, is 13,215.

Martin, who grew up in Baton Rouge, understands what this one means.

“It’s going to be real great and it’s great to get this kind of support from the community,” Martin said. “We’re definitely going to put on a show for them and give them what they came to watch.”