What a week it was for the LSU basketball team.
The Tigers, who started week four in the SEC 1-5 against league foes, moved up the conference ladder a few rungs after taking out No. 17 Missouri at home, 73-70, and then trekking to Starkville to steal a game from the Bulldogs, 69-68, when Anthony Hickey dropped in a floater with less than two seconds remaining.
LSU now stands at 12-7 overall, 3-5 in the SEC.
Below I provide three quick hitters on the Tigers, highlighting the latest and most important team news and trends on the court.
Keep an eye out for this weekly feature on Sunday nights through the end of the 2012-13 season.
1. There's no question now who LSU's most valuable player is.
It's been Anthony Hickey all along. Thing is it just took a while for that to show on the court after the point guard spent the first month of this season as LSU's most distracted player. Now Hickey seems to be focused and on track, and he's become the hardwood terror everyone remembers from a year ago.
His steals have remained a constant in 2012-13, with the sophomore from Kentucky still leading the nation in thefts per game at 3.5. But now his scoring and assist totals are on the rise, giving LSU the type of consistent offensive production it sorely needs. In two games this past week Hickey totaled 32 points, raising his average to a team-high 12.4 points per game, and eight assists (after dishing out a combined five assists in the three games prior).
Perhaps the most important thing, though, is the steely nerves Hickey showed in both of LSU's wins. He went toe-to-toe with a really good player in Missouri's Phil Pressey on Wednesday and carried his team to a win when things got dicey in the second half. Then, on Saturday, Hickey rattled off seven of his 12 points against State in the closing 49 seconds to steal a win from the Bulldogs. Even on a poor shooting day (5-of-14 from the field), Hickey imposed his will when it mattered. As a result, LSU went from 1-5 to 3-5 this week. Hickey's the main reason. I'd say that's a pretty true measure of the word valuable.
2. The Tigers can get by on small ball from time to time when needed.
One of the really interesting aspects of LSU's improbable comeback win in Starkville Saturday was that the Tigers did it going small … and I mean really small. The final five out there on the court for Johnny Jones were Hickey (5-11), Andre Stringer (5-10), Charles Carmouche (6-4), Shane Hammink (6-6) and Jalen Courtney (6-8). That's two players under six foot, four players in total who would be considered guards and typically play the one or the two, and a fifth player who has the body of a three but, out of necessity, plays the four.
Together they proved to be disruptive on the defensive end, pressing full court and trapping Mississippi State in its halfcourt sets, once causing a pivotal five-second call on the Bulldogs. They also were the right five out there on the other end, moving the ball up the court with the urgency and speed needed, getting into the lane without much duress and sinking big free throws.
It won't be something Jones can go to with regularity, as there's just too much size and beef in the SEC, but Jones has stumbled upon a go-to weapon when trailing in a ballgame. Small ball. And with the increased trust Hammink is earning, to go along with Malik Morgan, there are more options afforded to Jones. This discovery of sorts may have happened because Johnny O'Bryant and Shavon Coleman fouled out, but it's something worthwhile, in my opinion, that Jones can carry with him in his back pocket.
3. It's still an adventure every time this team laces it up on the road.
And one can only imagine it will continue to be for the Tigers. LSU entered the game at State in a considerably better position than the home team, having won two of its last three while the Bulldogs were on a five-game skid, with most of the losses coming via blowout. Didn't matter. MSU, a team that was shooting 40.3% for the season, woke up in its own arena to shoot over 57% for the first half and 48.1% for the game.
The Bayou Bengals just flat-out do not start well on the road and, as their track record suggests, fall short in comeback attempts more often than not. Saturday was the exception. Similar comeback efforts were not fruitful at Boise State, Marquette, Auburn or Kentucky. Now, maybe the energy and momentum gained from Saturday's win will change things going forward, but that's yet to be seen.
For now LSU is what its record says it is on the road: 2-5 overall, 1-3 in the SEC.
Four-point play: Freshman point guard Corban Collins (concussion, facial stitches) returned to action Saturday after missing the previous three games. Collins, wearing a protective mask, played four minutes and scored two points and grabbed a steal while turning it over once … Junior guard Andre Stringer had an ultra-efficient game from the field against Missouri, making 4-of-5 threes and all six of his free throws to end up with 18 big points. Jones said after the game LSU needs him to stay aggressive and consistent in his approach, even when his shot isn't falling … Sophomore power forward Johnny O'Bryant just keeps chugging along on the double-double train. He's now taken the double dip in five straight games and has taken over the team lead in rebounding from Shavon Coleman, averaging 8.5 boards per game … In maybe the most underrated stat of the season to date, LSU has an impressive four players averaging at least 1.5 steals per game. Hickey (3.5), Carmouche (2.3), Morgan (1.6) and Coleman (1.5) are all turning opponents over at a high rate. This is a pretty good indication that the players are executing and following through on Jones' preferred system and pace.
LSU welcomes in Vanderbilt (8-12, 2-6) on Wednesday night in the PMAC at 7 p.m. before heading to Tuscaloosa for a Saturday night date with Alabama (14-7, 6-2) that will be nationally televised on ESPN2 at 7 p.m.
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