At least three straight ranked opponents
await Tigers in difficult stretch
LSU made a lot of progress during non-conference play with a rugged schedule away from Baton Rouge.
Now the Tigers are at a point of their schedule where they need to reap the benefits of what they learned.
Starting with Saturday's 76-64 loss at No. 17-ranked Florida, LSU will play at least three straight games against ranked opponents. The Tigers travel to 18th-ranked Mississippi State on Wednesday and then come back home to entertain No. 1 Kentucky next Saturday.
Depending on what Arkansas, Alabama and Mississippi State do between now and when the calendar rolls to February, the lineup of ranked SEC foes could multiply.
"Every game in the SEC is a battle," sophomore guard Ralston Turner said. "But this stretch is really going to be tough. We need everybody to play well."
The Tigers are 1-2 against ranked teams this season, with an impressive victory against then 10th-ranked Marquette on Dec. 19 and losses to 23rd-ranked Virginia (57-52) and the Gators since then.
Rebounding still an issue for Tigers
LSU pulled down only 29 rebounds – 10.1 under its season average – in the loss to Florida, matching a season low. The Tigers also finished with only 29 rebounds two games prior at Alabama.
Two other tell-tale statistics from the loss to the Gators: LSU attempted only five free throws and made three, both season lows, and the Tigers came up with only one steal. The previous low for thefts this season was two against Georgia Tech.
Since reeling off seven consecutive victories, LSU is only 2-4 with three losses in SEC play. In those three league losses, the Tigers have given up 71.3 points a game -- 11 more than they were before.
BY THE NUMBERS: 3-12 – The Tigers will play their 16th game against a No. 1 team on Saturday when Kentucky comes to Baton Rouge. In its history, LSU is 3-12 against No. 1s, with the last win coming in the 2006 NCAA tournament Sweet 16 round against Duke, a 62-54 triumph. The Tigers have beaten only one SEC foe when they were on top of the polls – Kentucky in 1978, by a 95-94 score in overtime.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We didn't do a good job in the first half when the pressure hit us. In the second half, we played like we're capable of playing."
– LSU coach Trent Johnson on the Florida loss
when the Tigers fell behind 38-26 at halftime.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAMES
At Mississippi State, Jan. 24
KEY MATCHUPS: Unlike the Florida game, this one hinges on which club wins the battle in the paint with plenty of big bodies on both sides. The Bulldogs inside duo of Arnett Moultrie and Renardo Sidney is beefier, with 529 pounds between them. But Justin Hamilton is stacking up well with the SEC's best post players this season and will be a tough guard for either of the State big men. The Tigers will likely match Storm Warren and Malcolm White against Sidney to try to frustrate the talented but foul-prone 6-10 forward.
vs. Kentucky, Jan. 28
KEY MATCHUPS: As is the case with most teams that play the Wildcats, there aren't a lot of places LSU can pinpoint as advantages. UK is simply too talented across the board for the Tigers if they try to go mano-a-mano at the pace the Cats prefer. If LSU can dictate tempo, though, and bog Kentucky down into a half-court game, this one could become interesting. If there is an individual matchup to watch, it's the freshmen point guard showdown between the Tigers' Anthony Hickey and UK's Marquis Teague. Hickey is a Hopkinsville, Ky., native who couldn't get John Calipari to look at him and has played a huge role for LSU this season. He should be plenty motivated against the point guard Calipari did want in Teague.
FUTURES MARKET: LSU freshman John Isaac has flown under the radar most of the season as Hickey, Justin Hamilton and F Johnny O'Bryant have drawn more attention as an integral crew of newcomers who have helped increase the Tigers' talent level and depth. But he's a tenacious defender and has played more minutes since SEC play began. He could play a large role this week against the veteran backcourt of Mississippi State and the explosive Kentucky guards. What LSU needs from Isaac is more of an offensive presence when he spells Ralston Turner or Andre Stringer. Isaac is shooting just 28.6% and must be more of a perimeter threat.
Justin Hamilton was the primary source of offense in the Florida loss with 27 points, his season high and the most by a Tiger since Bo Spencer notched 26 against Auburn on Feb. 27, 2010. Hamilton has supplied 20 points or more in three of five SEC games and is averaging 19 points and 9.2 rebounds a game in league play.
Eddie LudwigJunior swingman Eddie Ludwig was a surprising boost off the bench against the Gators with seven points in 20 minutes -- his most time since before the SEC season began. Ludwig's playing time had dwindled in league games to just 18 minutes total in the first four, but foul trouble gave him a chance and he responded by hitting 3-of-4 field goals and his only free-throw attempt.
The status of LSU F Johnny O'Bryant is still murky as he tries to work his way back from a broken left hand. O'Bryant had surgery on Jan. 5 and has yet to be cleared by the Tigers' medical staff. Johnson said he will be evaluated again Tuesday to determine if he can play at Mississippi State.