The 2012-13 season got off to an inauspicious start for LSU sophomore point guard Anthony Hickey.
And that may be putting it lightly.
The Tigers' returning starter at the one and lead catalyst in Johnny Jones' new uptempo system flat-out wasn't accountable for himself and his actions off the court. As a result Hickey sat and watched almost as often as he started and played in the non-conference schedule, with Jones suspending or disciplining the Hopkinsville, Ky., native four times in the team's opening 11 contests of the fall, if you include LSU's exhibition contest against Arkansas-Monticello.
However, since sitting out the Houston Baptist game Dec. 28, LSU's resident No. 1 has flown straight, playing in all seven games and becoming a consistent difference-maker in ballgames on both ends of the floor.
Going into Wednesday night's home date with No. 17 Missouri, Hickey has scored in double figures in nine straight games played dating back to the UC Irvine win on Dec. 18.
His numbers have also jumped up across most categories since the Tigers entered SEC action six games ago. Hickey is averaging 13.8 points per game in the conference, up from 10.7 points per game prior, and an unheard-of 4.2 steals per game, up from 3.6 prior to league play.
Just about the only area where Hickey has slid back a tad is in the assist department. He's dishing out only 2.8 dimes per outing in SEC games, down from 4.0 assists per game in his previous nine contests.
Still, all in all, his impact on the Tigers can't be understated. He's been the high-energy spark LSU has needed every time it's fallen behind early in games, which lately has been a constant.
Hickey, averaging 34.2 minutes per game in the SEC, is used to working hard. But, as he told TSD on Monday, going forward he wants the team to work smarter, not digging these sizeable holes in the first place that put LSU behind the eight ball.
Perhaps the best news for Tiger fans: Hickey tasks himself with correcting the problem and leading the team.
"We've just got to get better toward the beginning of the games, on the come-out and start," explained Hickey. "That's something that I'm going to talk to my team about. We've got to get better at the beginning and until the end, so we can put together 40 minutes of basketball.
"It's about coming out ready to play. We've got to be fired up from the start. I'm going to do more pep-talking than I'm used to doing. Something's got to change. There's got to be something said or something done. If I've got to make a play the first play of the game to get everybody up, I'll do it for my team. I'm going to find a way to get that jumpstart."
Staying on level ground in the opening minutes is so important, according to Hickey, because the Tigers are finally starting to believe they can compete in the SEC, the byproduct of a gutsy comeback win against Texas A&M and hanging tight with the Wildcats in Rupp Arena.
"That's the mindset we have – that we've gotten a whole lot better," Hickey said. "We've shown that we're not going to give up and we can play with whoever."
For his next challenge Hickey will take on Phil Pressey, the straw that stirs Missouri's drink on the offensive end. Pressey, voted the preseason SEC player of the year by the media, is averaging 7.2 assists per game (tied for sixth in the NCAA) and has more assists – 136 – than the rest of his teammates combined – 127.
Call it a matchup of a man who specializes in distributing versus a man who specializes in taking away.
"I know he runs the team," acknowledged Hickey. "He's a great player and does whatever it takes and whatever the team needs. I know he leads the team in assists and is up there near the top in assists in the country. He's a great talent."
While Pressey is unquestionably one of the top players in the conference, he's not immune to turnovers. Among the top ten in individual assist leaders, Pressey ranks near the bottom in his assist-to-turnover ratio (1.94).
Because he deals so much with the ball in his hands, Pressey becomes a turnover victim by volume. That's something Hickey feels he can take advantage of tomorrow night in the PMAC.
"I'm going to look at film a little bit and see what I can do to throw a wrinkle in his game," continued Hickey. "It's about learning more of what he does and what I can make him do differently."
In the eyes of Jones, it's not about speeding Pressey up but staying in front of him and slowing him down.
"You don't want to speed him up. The faster he goes, the better he gets," Jones explained. "Phil is a very good, crafty guard. I think he can play both ways, he can play fast or slow. I think he has a real gift in terms of being able to create opportunities for others. That's why his assist numbers are up. He understands how to play. He's one of those really good point guards that can see plays ahead of time.
"The biggest deal you have to do is to just try to contain him and keep him in front. The less people who have to help out in terms of rotating and trying to get to him, the better off you are because when he gets in the gap and somebody comes to help he has teammates out there that are very capable of knocking down threes."
Hickey will get the first crack at staying in front of Missouri's standout. If he can do it, and LSU can pull the upset, the Tigers as a team might just begin to take a cue from Hickey's resurgence.
Hickey focused on starting better
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