LSU’s Anthony Hickey gets one more shot at Kentucky

Anthony Hickey made the right play.

Three years ago, the point guard thumped two dribbles at the top of the arc, swept away from a defender and jumped off the fabled Rupp Arena hardwood.

He was a senior at Christian County High then, an undersized and under-the-radar recruit who later would be named Kentucky’s Mr. Basketball.

But with 3.6 seconds left, Hickey was shocked to see Rowan County in a zone on the final play of double overtime. Maybe he could get a floater off — until he saw Veontae Lewis alone in the corner.

“Just sitting there,” Hickey said. “Waiting.”

Hickey, the son of a coach, didn’t hesitate.

“I did what a point guard does,” he said. “I passed it to him.”

Lewis lofted a jumper with 1.3 seconds left, and it fell through the hoop at the buzzer to give Christian County the 2011 state title — and Hickey’s most recent victory in his native state.

On Saturday, the junior will walk into the 23,500-seat arena for the final time with LSU (16-9, 7-6 Southeastern Conference) as it faces No. 18 Kentucky (20-6, 10-3) at 3 p.m.

“Every time you play against a hometown school, you want to make that mark,” forward Johnny O’Bryant III said. “You want to make it known why you were one of the best in that state.”

To know Hickey is to know how much he quietly craves a victory against a blueblood that never called, and how much ending a five-game road losing streak might alter the Tigers’ NCAA tournament fortunes.

“Getting that win will get the monkey off our backs,” he said. “We’re going in there with the mindset of, ‘We need this win on the road.’ ”

The SEC’s scheduling changes amid its expansion two years ago meant Hickey would get just two chances to play in a building that’s a 208-mile drive east of his hometown of Hopkinsville.

Any slight Hickey feels stems from being passed over. Ahead of his senior season, only mid-major programs — Western Kentucky, Southern Illinois, Murray State and Marshall — tendered scholarship offers.

Long considered a lean toward WKU, Hickey saw interest dip when the Hilltoppers got a commitment from a four-star recruit, effectively making Hickey a free agent.

The latter half of his senior season, a stretch when Christian County won 15 of its final 16 games, made Hickey a valued target after he averaged 18.6 points, 4.7 assists and 4.5 rebounds.

By April 2011, he garnered interest from power conference programs LSU, Cincinnati, Texas Tech, Tennessee and South Carolina. Absent were UK and Louisville — not that his family was expecting any overtures.

“It’s funny; we never really pondered it at all,” said Anthony Hickey Sr., the point guard’s father and a girls basketball coach at Christian County. “They didn’t come in, and he just moved on. He just decided, ‘I’ll find some place that wants me.’ It just happened to be an SEC school.”

As a senior, Hickey is averaging 10.2 points to go with 3.8 assists and 2.8 steals — all around his career averages. His decision-making against his home-state school may be more refined: In four games against the Wildcats, he has a 3.8 assist-to-turnover ratio, almost twice as good as his 2.1 career mark.

If anything, it’s evidence that Hickey, a quiet and polite kid with a slight drawl, doesn’t let the sea of royal blue packed in around him seep into his psyche.

“He’s always been that type of kid,” Hickey Sr. said. “He still has always kept his composure. He’s always been good at recognizing it’s never just about him. That helps in the long run of a game.”

Last season, he scored 15 points and dished out two assists when LSU trekked to Lexington for a 75-70 loss. Yet Kentucky coach John Calipari stopped the Tigers guard in the handshake line, leaned in and said maybe the Wildcats should have given him a look.

“I can’t really remember it all,” Hickey said.

On Saturday, Hickey said, he’ll sneak out to the floor a little earlier. He’ll take more time to gaze up at the banners and the seats surrounding him. All he can see are the blue seats, but if he shuts his eyes for a moment, he can envision making the same play he did three years ago.

“When you step on that floor, it’s different,” he said. “I’ve always said that. It makes you feel a certain type of way. You stop for a second.”

The rest of the trek? Well, it’s the same: settling into a room at the Griffin Gate resort outside Lexington, squeezing in last-minute details from the scouting report and boarding a bus for the short ride to the hostile arena.

He’ll have to squint to see the splotch of purple and gold in the upper deck, where a couple of those specks will be Anthony Sr.; his mother, Monica Moore; and two sisters.

“Out of all the SEC schools,” Hickey Sr. said before chuckling, “they give you the worst seating.”

What goes through Anthony Jr.’s mind in that instant?

“Trying not to worry about scoring, trying not to get caught up in performing in front of my family,” he said. “I’m just going to do what I’ve been doing. That’s running the show and staying engaged and playing with confidence.”

The reunion? It will be brief in a corner near the tunnel outside LSU’s locker room.

But if you ask Anthony Hickey Sr. for his strongest recollection of his son’s play in the building, he doesn’t talk about the play.

“I just remember thinking, ‘If they can’t get it done at the end of the second overtime, I don’t know if they will,’ ” he said.

Those minutes will begin to dwindle Saturday, too, and his son is acutely aware.

“I’ve been there before,” he said, “and I’ve made the play when I needed to.”