A desperate and injured LSU squad will bring one of the nation’s best players to Bud Walton Arena Tuesday night at 6 p.m. to face an Arkansas team trying to make one last stand.
The Razorbacks (13-14, 6-8) have four regular season games and the SEC Tournament left while the Tigers (16-11, 9-5) – who have lost three of four games after once leading the SEC race - find themselves squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble.
“This time of the year every game is a grind and every game is a must,” Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson said on Monday’s SEC Teleconference. “ So it's a big game for us and it's a big game for LSU.
“We want to certainly play well at home. It should be a great, great atmosphere. Our guys are looking forward to having an opportunity to play a team of LSU's caliber.”
Anderson will be trying to win his 100th game at Arkansas and his 300th as a head coach overall.
LSU head coach Johnny Jones is wary of Arkansas big three of 6-3 guards Dusty Hannahs (16.1) and Anthlon Bell (16.1) as well as 6-10 center Moses Kingsley (16.0, 9.3) in the match-up, which will be televised by ESPNU.
“Arkansas is a very talented team that has unbelievable scorers,” Jones said of one of only two trios in college basketball on the same team averaging over at least 16 points per game. “ When you have three guys that can score the ball like they do and other guys that are very capable of having big nights. You know what they are capable of.
“We have always known how tough they are and what a tough out it is to play them at Bud Walton Arena as well.”
LSU – which beat Arkansas 76-74 last month in Baton Rouge – will likely be without 6-4, 210-pound guard Keith Hornsby, who is averaging 13.1 points per game this season.
An ESPN report said that Hornsby, whose buzzer beater took down Arkansas in Bud Walton Arena last season, is out for the season due to a hernia.
Jones could not confirm that report.
“We don’t know,” Jones said. “ I have got a note that our trainer has alerted me to his findings on yesterday that the doctors want to do their due diligence and take their time to go through the proper procedures and made sure they are ruling everything out for Keith.
“I don’t they have jumped to any conclusions. I think ESPN could be right, there is a chance that he could be out for the rest of the season but I don’t that as of yet.”
Jones does admit he expects Hornsby to miss some time.
“We do know he will be slowed down for a bit,” Jones said. “The doctors had a chance to look at him more yesterday and went through some stuff yesterday evening. We are hopeful we will know by noon today more about his injury.
“But I think they are just doing their due diligence and going through all the procedures to try to find out exactly where he is but there is no timetable on his return for us.”
Anderson has seen his team struggle against some injury-plagued teams this season.
“There's that sense of urgency when someone goes down,” Anderson said. “I don't know the particulars of what's taking place, but we're going to prepare like he's going to play. I'm more worried about us right now, and that is us hopefully putting a string of games together.”
Moses Kingsley, Ben Simmons
Because his academics weren’t in order, Simmons came off the bench in Saturday’s 81-65 loss at Tennessee and scored 21 points and had nine rebounds, but also tied a season high with eight turnovers.
The 6-10, 225-pound freshman is expected to be the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft and is averaging 19.4 points, 11.9 rebounds and 5 assists per game this season.
“When you look at the things Ben Simmons has done as a freshman, it's unbelievable,” Anderson said. “Yet I hear there are people out there who are critics of what has taken place in his game. This guy is averaging a double-double, 11 rebounds in conference, almost 20 points, one of the best assist guys in the country.”
He is aided inside by 6-9, 235-pound power forward Craig Victor (12.6, 5.9), whose rebound basket near the buzzer gave the Tigers the earlier win over the Razorbacks.
“Of course Craig Victor is the guy who actually had the game-winning basket against us at their place,” Anderson said. “So we played them early in the year. They're familiar with us, we're familiar with them every game is a grind.”
LSU also has 6-4 freshman guard Antonio Blakeney (11.0) and 6-6 junior point guard Tim Quarterman (10.8).
Jones is not sure yet who will start in Hornsby’s spots.
“I tell you we are not exactly sure which direction we will go but have a couple, of, I think, options maybe to get at here,” Jones said. “But it’s going to be very difficult to fill the void that Hornsby would leave if he’s not available to play and what he brings to our team.
“…. He plays extremely hard. He is a selfless guy and he gets out there and he is a team guy and we will miss that if he is not out there on the floor.
“So we certainly have to try and fill that void by committee because I don’t think there is any one person that can do that but we are hopeful that he made an impression on these guys that he has had an opportunity to be with that they can take from his leadership and maybe play at a level that will help us be successful. “
Jones knows that LSU’s berth in the Big Dance is slipping away if the Tigers don’t get things turned around.
“We always have talked about bouncing back,” Jones said. That’s the main thing this year.
…We have got to try and bounce back against a very tough team on the road in Arkansas who we know what they are capable of doing with the way they play. We had a very close, contested game here and were fortunate to get out with the win. It will be a hard-fought battle there as well.”
Keith Hornsby (4) celebrates his game-winning shot last season at Bud Walton Arena.