Depth factor

Warren, White and Bass give Tigers unique senior depth

Usually by the time a college basketball player arrives at his senior season, there's a natural progression that leads him to a key role.

That's certainly the case for LSU's trio of seniors, although the important roles Storm Warren, Malcolm White and Chris Bass are a little out of the ordinary.

Those three all come off the bench – at least for now – for the Tigers (8-3), who play their final game before Christmas at 7 p.m. Thursday at North Texas (6-5).

For a lot of players in their final season, the notion of not taking the floor as starters might be tough to take.

Not so much for the LSU seniors, all of whom have started at times during their careers.

"It doesn't matter if you start or don't start, you have to do the best you can when you get on the court," said Warren, who made 54 starts in 61 games played as a sophomore and junior and six this season. "When you come in, you have to define your role quickly and accept it."

Added White, "If I can come off the bench and produce and help my team, I'm willing to do that.

Regardless of how that role might shift over time.

Warren was a starter when the season began, but gave way to freshman Johnny O'Bryant five games ago. Unfazed by what might perceived as a demotion, the 6-foot-7, 230-pound forward has emerged as a sparkplug off the Tigers' bench.

He has averaged 8.4 points and 4 rebounds as LSU's sixth man, but more importantly, injects a level of energy that invariably ignites the Tigers.

"It's not necessarily a different mental approach, but due to the experience I've gotten over the years, I'm able to view the game from a different standpoint," Warren said.

Lately White and Bass have followed Warren's lead, especially Monday in a 67-59 triumph against 10th-ranked Marquette.

With LSU wobbly after the Golden Eagles pounced in front 7-0 before a Trent Johnson timeout and 13-0 before LSU's first points, the senior trio went into the game together and redirected the energy level.

White threw down a pair of ferocious dunks. Warren started gobbling up offensive rebounds. Bass calmed the offense down, particularly against Marquette's revolving press defensive looks.

With those three as the spark, the Tigers roared back to take a 21-20 lead, punctuated by Warren's thunderous slam-dunk follow shot.

"We knew we needed to turn momentum around," said White, who finished with 5 points and 4 boards in the win. "It was getting to the point where they kept punching us in the mouth and we needed to respond."

Added Warren, "It can throw a certain different wrinkle in a game because we have a lot of experience."

That experience is in contrast to the talented O'Bryant and, to a lesser degree, junior center Justin Hamilton.

White has settled into a reserve roll after starting all of last season

Hamilton has blossomed quickly for LSU, supplying 11.6 points and 6.5 rebounds a game. But he relies at finesse most of the time, while O'Bryant is still evolving as a college player – figuring out his physical skills, while impressive, aren't the only tools in his toolbox.

With Warren and White, a starter as a sophomore at Ole Miss and last year for the Tigers, there's no shortage of physicality or aggressiveness.

"We have the will to compete," White said. "Me and Storm being seniors, that's what Coach Johnson expects from us."

No argument from Johnson.

"When you can get two seniors who've been through their share of wars, are quick to the ball and rebound the ball and have a physical approach, it helps," Johnson said. "That's what I like most about them, their energy and their physical approach, their ability and willingness to play around the basket."

Not a bad time for those traits Thursday, either.

North Texas is strong up front, more so now since freshman Tony Mitchell gained eligibility after sitting out the first nine games. The bulky 6-8 forward was ranked as the No. 18 player nationally from the Class of 2010 who originally signed with Missouri but left before playing a minute there. Since he gained eligibility last week, Mitchell has shown why since he hit the floor with 12 points and 9 caroms a game. More than those numbers, though, his impact for the Mean Green is clear.

In the two games since Mitchell was cleared, North Texas is shooting better as a team and opponents' field-goal accuracy has dropped to 38.2%. UNT's rebound margin has jumped from +5.2 to +15.

New Orleans native Kendrick Hogan, a 6-7 senior, is a strong complement inside with 5.5 points and 4.6 rebounds a contest.

It's Mitchell who has the Tigers' attention, though.

"We have a team that reminds me a lot of Houston in North Texas," Johnson said. "They have a special player that just became eligible in Tony Mitchell. … He's explosive as all get out."

Warren and White figure to play a key role in neutralizing Mitchell, especially if Hamilton is slowed. The Tigers' 7-footer tweaked an ankle in the Marquette game and Johnson wasn't 100% sure Tuesday if his center would be available against UNT.

If he's not, Warren is likely to return to the starting lineup.

Not that it matters to him or his coach, who bristles at the idea of starters or the three words "off the bench."

"It's minutes, it's who finishes and winning – winning before all of that," Johnson said.

CHALK TALK: LSU at North Texas

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