Can They Get on Track?

Can the LSU basketball team get back on track against Alabama on Thursday night in Baton Rouge?


Tigers drop eighth straight

   LSU, without a win since starting 2-0 in SEC play, is running out of opportunities to taste victory again.

   A trio of legitimately winnable games to start February came and went with LSU losing all three by single digits. The Tigers returned to getting hammered Feb. 12 in an 80-61 loss at Arkansas.

   What's left?

   LSU has SEC West leader Alabama at home Feb. 17 and East leader Florida at home on Feb. 20. After a Feb. 23 trip to Mississippi State, the Tigers return home to play nationally ranked Vanderbilt on Feb. 26. The regular-season schedule ends with games at Georgia and at home against Auburn in March.

   At first glance, the home game against Auburn would seem like a good place to get a win. LSU beat Auburn on the road in the SEC opener, and Auburn was picked to finish last in the West in the preseason. But the league's other Tigers have gotten hot lately with two wins in four games, while LSU continues to slide.

   LSU's loss at Arkansas was its eighth straight, sending the Tigers into a tie with Auburn for last place in the West.

   Prior to the Feb. 12 blowout, the Tigers played South Carolina, Mississippi State and Ole Miss close, falling in the final minutes of each game. Those missed opportunities, given the difficult stretch that lies ahead, could prove costly.

   LSU went 2-14 in the SEC last year.



   --A winter storm that hit the South last week kept LSU from returning home Wednesday night and resulted in some adventures in traveling. Instead of flying back to Baton Rouge after the Ole Miss game, the Tigers stayed an extra night in Oxford. On Feb. 10, they bused to Memphis, where they caught a plane to Fayetteville. LSU practiced at Bud Walton Arena on Feb. 11 ahead of the early afternoon tip-off.

   --Fayetteville has not been kind to LSU the past two seasons, as the Tigers have been blown out by Arkansas in both trips there. The Tigers lost 80-61 at Bud Walton Arena on Feb. 12, but that wasn't as bad as last year's 87-52 decision in Fayetteville. Interestingly, LSU beat Arkansas in Baton Rouge both seasons.

   --Freshman point guard Andre Stinger and junior forward Malcolm White are the only Tigers who have started all 10 conference games. Injuries to freshman guard Ralston Turner and junior forward Storm Warren are partly to blame, but it's also an indication of inconsistent individual performances. LSU has been in mix-and-match mode throughout looking to find the best five. A total of eight players have started multiple SEC games.

   BY THE NUMBERS: 6 -- Number of points Stringer scored against Ole Miss and Arkansas in LSU's two games last week. He had four against Arkansas after scoring only two against Ole Miss. In two games the previous week, Stringer led LSU with 19 points against South Carolina and 15 against Mississippi State.

   QUOTE TO NOTE: "Hey are you kidding me? It was perfect. So we had a little snow? So we had to be on the bus three or four miles more? We got to check into a hotel a day earlier. What are we talking about here? Please, don't go there with me. It's not that big of a deal. These kids in college athletics now? It's a lot different. They're not hurting so much. It had nothing to do with the outcome of this game." -- Coach Trent Johnson on whether LSU's tangled travel plans affected Saturday's performance.




   --vs. Alabama, Feb. 17

   KEY MATCHUPS: Alabama has been the SEC's surprise team this season on the strength of the league's top defense. The Crimson Tide led the conference in scoring defense allowing 58.4 points per game through Feb. 13 and had held opponents to a conference-best 37.8 percent shooting. LSU ranked last in the SEC averaging 62.7 points and 11th shooting 40 percent from the field entering the week. Last month in Tuscaloosa, the Tide held LSU to 37.8 percent shooting in a 70-46 whipping.

   --vs. Florida, Feb. 20

   KEY MATCHUPS: Florida will enter Baton Rouge off a seven-day layoff, but the biggest advantage for the Gators is in experience. Florida starts three seniors, a junior and sophomore after reaching the NCAA tournament with the same lineup last year. On the other end, LSU starts three freshmen and two juniors. Florida has been outstanding in close games, and the Gators lead the SEC in rebounding margin. The Tigers would love to test Florida's success in close games.

   FUTURES MARKET: Johnny O'Bryant, who signed with LSU in the fall, has been named to the McDonald's All-American team. The 6-foot-10 senior at East Side High in Cleveland, Miss., is the first LSU signee picked to play in the prestigious all-star game since Tasmin Mitchell, a McDonald's All-American coming out of Denham Springs, La., in 2005.



   --Freshman G Matt Derenbecker played only sparingly against Mississippi State on Feb. 5 after suffering a sprained ankle against South Carolina in the previous game. But he is back healthy again. Derenbecker led LSU with 13 points against Arkansas after scoring a team-high 19 points against Ole Miss.

   --Junior F Storm Warren, limited much of the season with an Achilles injury, picked up his first two starts of the conference season against Ole Miss and Arkansas and played more than 20 minutes in both games. Warren entered the season as LSU's top returning scorer from last year.

   --Freshman F Jalen Courtney is sidelined with a knee injury, and his return this season is questionable. Courtney, part of a four-player freshman class, was averaging only 1.1 points and 4.8 minutes. 

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