Tigers collapse at Auburn to land in SEC basement
What has been a tough season for LSU bottomed out in a loss to Auburn, leaving the Tigers at the bottom of the SEC standings for the second year in a row.
The Tigers led Auburn by 15 points at home with 14:24 to play, but the latest in a season full of long scoring draughts spelled doom. Auburn came back to snag a 60-51 victory, escaping the cellar of the SEC West for the first time since its 0-6 start in league action.
"It was bad basketball all the way around, but the position where we are right now is exactly where we belong – last place," LSU coach Trent Johnson said.
Most disappointing is that LSU has lacked improvement.
The Tigers started 2-0 in the SEC before losing 12 of their final 13 games, and the fast start included a 62-55 win at Auburn in the conference opener.
By contrast, Auburn won four of its final 10 regular-season games and played Alabama, Arkansas and Georgia to the wire in three losses.
"I would like to apologize to the LSU fan base," Johnson said after Saturday's loss, "because what has happened here this year has been an embarrassment."
Now it's off to Atlanta for the SEC tournament.
The loss to Auburn left LSU as the No. 6 seed from the West to set a matchup with Vanderbilt -- the No. 3 seed from the East -- at 10 p.m. EST March 10 in the Georgia Dome.
Vanderbilt earned the No. 3 spot after Kentucky beat Tennessee on March 6.
When the teams met Feb. 26 at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, the Commodores overcame LSU's two-point lead at the half in racing to a 90-69 win. It was the fourth of five losses by the Tigers of 20-plus points in SEC play, and it began their three-game skid to end the regular season.
--LSU led Auburn 40-25 with 14:24 to play after leading by as many as 13 points in the first half. But Auburn scored 35 of the next 44 points to take a 60-49 lead with 42 seconds left. A basket by Ralston Turner with 29 seconds to go provided the final margin, saving LSU from its third straight double-digit loss.
--After a jumper by Matt Derenbeceker with 13:29 left Saturday, LSU went 10 minutes, 14 seconds without a basket. Malcolm White hit a couple of free throws with 7:49 remaining, but the Tigers were shut out from the field until Storm Warren scored in transition with 3:15 to go. By then, Auburn had used a 20-2 run to take its first lead since the game's opening minutes.
--LSU is looking to avoid its second straight one-and-done at the SEC tournament after finishing last in the league standings for the second straight year. Tennessee knocked off the Tigers in the first game last season.
BY THE NUMBERS: 27 – Number of games LSU has lost, out of 32, in SEC play the past two years.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I've never been on a last-place team, so I don't really know how to react. No one does. It's not humanly possible to get used to coming in last place." -- LSU guard Matt Derenbecker
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--vs. Vanderbilt, March 10
KEY MATCHUPS: The good news for LSU is the Tigers led Vandy by two at halftime in the Feb. 26 matchup. The bad news is the Commodores outscored them 49-26 in the second half. Look for a heavy dose of LSU junior Storm Warren, who had success for against Vandy's big men in the first meeting. But for the Tigers to pull off the upset, they must send Vandy into the NCAA tournament with their third straight loss following a 21-7 start. That doesn't seem likely.
FUTURES MARKET: All three of the guards LSU signed in the 2009-10 recruiting class have emerged as starters and, quite often, the team's most explosive scorers. Turner is the team's leading scorer, and Matt Derenbecker and Andre Stringer have also carried the offensive load at various points. Turner and Derenbecker look like potential multi-year starters at the wings, but Stringer at point guard is less of a certainty moving forward. Though a gifted shooter, Stringer has struggled to penetrate the lane and with finding open teammates in the flow of the offense. Johnson would probably rather have Stringer in the rotation with Turner and Derenbecker on the outside if he can find a point guard on the recruiting trail capable of stepping in and playing right away.
-- Junior F Storm Warren has reached double figures in LSU's last four games after scoring no more than 10 points in any of the first 12 games of the SEC season. Warren had a team-high 14 points for the Tigers in the loss to Auburn, but only four in the final 32 minutes. He scored 10 of LSU's first 13 points as LSU took a commanding early lead.
-- Sophomore F Eddie Ludwig, known for his headiness and hustle, threw down a rare dunk March 5 when the 6-9, 215-pounder ran down a length-of-the court pass from Derenbecker midway through the second half. Auburn's Daniel Gabriel was whistled for a foul as Ludwig scored on a one-handed slam, sending the LSU bench into a frenzy. Even though he missed the ensuing free throw, Ludwig gave LSU a 15-point cushion with the dunk. Auburn outscored LSU 35-11 the rest of the way.
-- Freshman G Ralston Turner had shown signs of becoming a consistent go-to scorer, but the young guard was off the mark on 2 of his 11 shots from the field against Auburn and finished with only five points. Turner had gotten into double digits in each of the past seven games, including consecutive 18-point outings entering the March 5 finale.