Bryce Hopkins waited his turn and the patience paid off as the freshman forward arrived Tuesday night and gave the No. 6 Kentucky a boost as the Wildcats desperately needed a spark.
Hopkins scored a career-high 13 points — all in the second half — to lead Kentucky to a 71-66 triumph over LSU. It was Hopkins who provided much-needed lift after the Wildcats trailed by 11 points in the first half and played without the backcourt tandem of Sahvir Wheeler and TyTy Washington for the second straight game.
“We all talk about him because he did what the team needed him to do…the team was so happy for him, and so was I,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “… (the) entire bench applauded Bryce. They were so happy for him, just like they were for Damion (Collins) in Alabama (earlier this year).
The contest marked the second straight successful comeback for Kentucky, which rallied to defeat Alabama last Saturday. Kentucky has come back from 10 or more points to win three games this season. The Wildcats trailed 31-23 at halftime, which caught Hopkins’ attention and he delivered.
“The coaches said we needed more energy and that’s what I tried to do when I came into the game, to bring energy and contribute in any way I could.” he declared. “The coach always tells us to wait for our opportunity and today was mine and I took advantage of it. … I finally broke through and it felt good.
The Tigers beat the Wildcats 65-60 on Jan. 4 in Baton Rouge and almost achieved the same feat this time around, but Kentucky avoided a regular-season sweep to stay one game behind Auburn in the Conference standings. Southeast with three games to play. the regular season.
The Wildcats (23-5, 12-3) trailed 11 in the first half and 36-28 early in the second half before making a comeback, inspired by Hopkins, who had no scored just 10 points in the team’s last 14 conference games. Hopkins scored 11 points on an impressive 19-4 run that was the difference in the team’s successful comeback.
“You have to drive them because they change everything,” Calipari said. “You have to make really tough cuts in the first half (and) we didn’t,” he said. “I came in at halftime and said we were down four baskets. You know what, if you start cutting and driving, you’ll get what you want, and it’s everything we did in the second half that was different.
Oscar Tshiebwe led the Wildcats with 17 points and 16 rebounds and carried the charge in the first half with 12 of the team’s 23 points. In total, the Wildcats fielded four double-digit players. Along with Hopkins, Davion Mintz and Kellan Grady had 13 points apiece.
Despite building a double-digit lead that stretched to 15 at 65-50, the Tigers roared before the Wildcats sealed the deal by making three of four free throws in the final 14 seconds.
Playing without their backcourt tandem of Wheeler and Washington, the Wildcats struggled and committed 12 turnovers and had just three assists. However, Hopkins helped them overcome the absence of their backcourt.
“I’m so proud of Bryce,” Tshiebwe said. “He doesn’t know how proud we are of him. We cheer him on. … he really helped us. He really helped us come back (and win) the game.
Game tracking: Kentucky at Arkansas, 2 p.m., Saturday. Television/Radio: CBS, British radio network.
Keith Taylor is a sportswriter for Kentucky Today. Reach him at [email protected] and via Twitter at keithtaylor21.