More stingy defense? Check. Another opponent held under 60 points, making it six times in the last seven games.
Fortunate to escape on a night when you looked as offensively challenged as you have all season? Yep, biggest check of all.
LSU crossed all of the above off its to-do list Thursday night, staving off a late-game surge by UC Irvine to notch a 66-59 triumph at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
Justin Hamilton scored eight straight points after the Anteaters charged back from a 14-point deficit midway through the second half, Eddie Ludwig capped one of the better nights of his career by swishing a shot clock-beating jumper and the Tigers knocked down 8-of-10 foul shots in the final 1:59 to survive.
Hamilton led LSU (7-3) with 14 points and 11 rebounds and Ludwig matched a career-high with 12 points to help the Tigers get by despite shooting a frosty 31.3% (21-of-67), 28.6% (10-of-35) in the second half.
The feeling afterward was more sense of relief than happiness as LSU won a fourth straight game for the first time since a five-game streak in late 2009.
"Boy that was pretty," Tigers coach Trent Johnson said in complete dead-pan mode.
"We were fortunate enough to win."
Added Ludwig, who was 4-of-7 from the floor with a pair of 3-pointers, "Coming out the second half we really wanted to extend on our lead. But you have to give them credit. They came out and fought us all the way in the second half. It really came down to the hustle plays and the 50-50 balls and it seemed like more often than not, they were the ones getting the balls. Coaches weren't happy about that and we're not happy about that."
LSU had every reason to be happy in the opening stages of the second half after Ralston Turner banged down a 3-pointer and freshman John Isaac – back on the floor after missing the previous game with a sore knee – connected on back-to-back jump shots to stretch the Tigers' lead to a game-high 44-30 with 11:47 left in the game.
Just when it appeared UCI (2-8) was about to be blown out, though, the Anteaters came to life.
Will Davis II hit a short shot from the lane to trigger a 9-0 blitz in a 1:16 span, culminating with Michael Wilder's 3-pointer from the right wing that trimmed the deficit to 44-39.
That forced Johnson to call a timeout and LSU stanched the bleeding briefly when Turner converted four straight free throws to nudge the lead back to 48-39.
But LSU could struggled to regain the double-digit cushion because Wilder kept cranking in 3s – one at 6:22 to pull the Anteaters as close as they were in the second half, 50-46, and another at the 3:41 juncture to keep UCI close at 54-49.
|Senior Chris Bass: Typifies big night for LSU bench with 3 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists|
The only thing that prevented the Anteaters from creeping closer was the final salvo of Hamilton's timely outburst.
Sandwiched around Wilder's treys, Hamilton hit a follow shot, a short jumper and two free throws.
Following Wilder's dagger to pull UCI within five, LSU had four shots on one possession – the last on Hamilton's thunderous slam dunk on a feed from Ludwig.
"The whole game they were playing tough and I was just trying to be aggressive," Hamilton said. "Finally I got the ball in a spot I needed to get it in and I was able to make a couple of plays, but I think our defense in that stretch was really good and we just needed to finish it."
Ludwig put a nail in the Anteaters' coffin when he grabbed the ball as the shot clock was winding down and pumped in a jump shot from the circle. After that, LSU iced the game when Anthony Hickey made four free throws, Ludwig hit a pair and Hamilton was 1-of-2.
That was just enough as UCI made its four of its last six floor shots, the last on Wilder's fourth 3, to keep the pressure on.
"At the end of the day, we got the win and that's the most important thing," Ludwig said. "There are a lot of little things we've got to correct and get better at."
One of those things isn't so little, though.
Shooting has plagued the Tigers on and off all season, and their struggles were as bad Thursday as they have been all season.
Hamilton and Ludwig were a combined 6-for-12 from the field after halftime. The rest of the Tigers were 4-for-23 – Turner alone was 1-of-12 on the way for a dismal 2-for-17 night.
A stout rebounding night helped offset the shooting woes: LSU grabbed 20 offensive caroms that led to second-chance points.
But it was clear the problems knocking down shots was on the players' and Johnson's mind.
Johnson referred to 15-16 open shots in rhythm that the Tigers "usually hit." He said Turner in particular launched 13 shots that were open.
"We got a lot of open shots; the ball's not going down for guys right now," Johnson said. "We've got to continue to shoot them.
"We have shot the ball more in the last three days than we have all year with this team. If they were bad shots it would be one thing, but we're getting good shots. I don't talk about it just tell them stay aggressive. If it's a mechanical problem we get in the gym and work on it. But for the most part without looking at the tape there were guys that had good shots, open shots in rhythm."
Thursday was the second straight game without sophomore sharpshooter Andre Stringer, LSU's leading scorer and most reliable 3-point threat.
With Stringer in street clothes the last two games, the Tigers' starters are 4-of-22 from outside the arc. Johnson insisted he's not going to ask about anyone "putting pressure on themselves because Andre's not out there."
"Without question we miss Andre and there are some things that he does well and it's hard to replace," Turner said. "But with that being said, we have a lot of guys on this team that are capable of making plays and when he's out a lot of us others need to step up and fill the role."
Added Ludwig, who has started in Stringer's place, "Andre is a huge part of this team, and when he's not in there we have to make a huge adjustment. It's definitely a lot different without Andre, but we're adjusting."
Part of that adjustment has come from the bench.
Isaac's return was a spark (6 points, 3 rebounds) Thursday, as was the play of sophomore Jalen Courtney (5 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists) and Chris Bass (3 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists).
Anchored by that trio, the Tigers' reserves contributed 23 points, 18 rebounds and 7 assists in 72 minutes. In the first half, the LSU bench accounted for 17 of 28 points and 15 of 23 rebounds.
"I thought our bench did a good job in the first half," Johnson said.
Added Bass, "Coach always tells us to always stay ready as a backup. We were kind of flat a little bit, but we got it turned around. You have to extend and keep playing well."
Now the Tigers head into a week that will provide a timely barometer with a home game Monday against No. 11-ranked Marquette and a road trip next Thursday to North Texas, which thumped LSU 75-55 last season.
"We're going to find out how much we've grown as a basketball team," Johnson said.