Young Tigers Challenge Arkansas

FAYETTEVILLE -- Ordinarily, one might look at an LSU basketball team expected to start three freshmen tonight and figure that Arkansas should have an advantage.

But the Razorbacks (11-3, 0-1 in the Southeastern Conference) just lost on Saturday night to a Mississippi State team that started three freshmen, proving the old adage that if a Bulldog is going to bite he'll do it as a pup.

LSU's freshmen are not ordinary, either. They've shown they'll claw as cubs.

Tyrus Thomas, a 6-foot-9 freshman forward from Baton Rouge, La., averages 13.9 points and leads the Tigers with 9.8 rebounds per game. Tasmin Mitchell, a 6-7 freshman forward, averages 11.2 points and 6.0 rebounds. Garrett Temple, a 6-5 freshman guard from Baton Rouge, has started 12 of 13 games for LSU (8-5, 0-0 SEC).

That Tiger trio complements senior guard Darrel Mitchell, who leads LSU with 18.3 points per game, and 6-9 sophomore center Glen "Big Baby" Davis (18.0 points, 9.6 rebounds per game), the SEC Freshman of the Year last season.

"Davis has improved his game, and that's really scary," said Hogs coach Stan Heath. "He moves well, has great feet and great hands. He's slimmed down to 310 but is still huge. He can shoot fadeaways and 15-footers. LSU knows where its bread is buttered."

Darrel Mitchell, who averaged 13.1 points last season, has helped take up the slack for junior guard Tack Minor, who is out for the season with a knee ligament injury.

"We really haven't had Tack all year," said LSU coach John Brady. "I think our team has held up well without him. I think we've showed that we're a good basketball team without him."

Minor played just three games this season, averaging 2.7 points.

Since Minor's major injury, LSU has come close to upsetting No. 19 Ohio State and No. 4 Connecticut, losing 78-76 and 67-66 respectively around a 78-58 win over Tulane.

Earlier this season, LSU won in overtime at No. 16 West Virginia, 71-68.

The Tigers, favorites in the SEC West, will play their first league game at 7:05 tonight in Bud Walton Arena.

"We open up at one of the most difficult places in the league," Brady said. "We expect a tough environment and we think we're going to get their best shot. We have to be ready to play."

Heath said, "Both teams are anxious to get a win; both are coming off a loss."

Arkansas needs a good game from 6-10 forward Darian Townes, who went scoreless against Mississippi State.

"He knows he's a valuable player," Heath said. "Everyone has off nights. (Illinois guard) Dee Brown shot 2-for-19 against Iowa."

Steven Hill, who will start at center for Arkansas against Davis, is coming off a 10-point, 6-rebound game in which he blocked two shots -- a bit under his average of 2.8 blocks.

Hill said he hopes his improved offense continues, but that he needs to help contain Davis, who "has really improved and is a great rebounder."

Townes said, "I'm going to front (Davis) or stay behind him and contest his shot -- I'm going to try both. LSU is a good rebounding team --you've got to give them credit for that."

Arkansas will need to take a hard-nosed approach against the Tigers, who have outrebounded their opponents by 15.3 per game.

"I think we're a lot tougher than we were last year," Hill said. "We had a little slip in the last game."

Mississippi State outrebounded Arkansas 45-34 in a 69-67 win, while committing 16 turnovers to Arkansas' mere four.

UA guard Dontell Jefferson, scoreless in 27 minutes against the Bulldogs, worked extra on his shooting after Monday's practice, as did SEC Preseason Player of the Year Ronnie Brewer (league-leading 18.7 points per game).

"This is a big night for us," Brewer said. "LSU is a tough team -- they just took UConn to the wire. Glen Davis is rough on us, and Darrel Mitchell has knocked down some shots on us the last couple of years and given us problems."

LSU has beaten Arkansas five of the last six times, including a controversial 66-63 overtime win in Baton Rouge last season. With LSU leading 58-56 late in regulation, Arkansas' Michael Jones' buzzer shot appeared to be a 3-pointer but was eventually ruled a two, sending the game to overtime.

Arkansas leads the series 25-15, including 11-3 in Fayetteville.

Hogs junior forward Vincent Hunter, whose sprained ankle made him unavailable against Mississippi State, should be available tonight.

Jonathon  Modica is coming off a 20-point game for Arkansas, during part of which he got so hot that he said, "Mississippi State started face-guarding me. At one time I think they even tried a box-and-one, but I couldn't really tell."

Heath said about Modica, "We need him involved."

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