A fresh beginning?

Tigers hit February looking for a turnaround after a rocky January.

After a week of soul-searching and licking wounds, the LSU men are ready to go back to work.

With a humbling loss to No. 1-ranked Kentucky still fresh but starting to fade, the Tigers take on Arkansas at home at 12:45 p.m. Saturday, the much-needed start of a new month.

The Tigers (12-9, 2-5 SEC) faltered in January and have lost five of their last six games. Four of those came on the road, though, and the last three against top-25 teams. Now February arrives with what appears to be a much more manageable schedule, including five home games in eight and only one game against a team currently ranked.

Easy? No. But there is cause for renewed hope.

"We still have a juggernaut of a schedule," LSU coach Trent Johnson said. "I mean, the teams that we're playing are much improved and are good quality basketball teams.

"For me, it's just these guys understanding 'You know what, let's just lay it all on the line. We've got to improve in these areas, we've got to continue to improve, we've got to continue to stay together and we'll see what happens.' "

As good as Arkansas (16-6, 4-3) has been at times this season, the Razorbacks aren't as daunting a challenge – particularly away from Bud Walton Arena.

All of the Hogs' 16 wins are at home. All six losses have come when Arkansas has arrived with suitcases in hand.

Johnson knows those facts and figures, but he's also aware how important it is for his team to get back to the form it played with before the Kentucky meltdown, when not much of anything went right.

"They're so much more dominant at home, but they've shown vs. Alabama (72-66 loss in Tuscaloosa) that they're getting a lot better (on the road)," Johnson said. "It's just a matter of time before they break through.

"Arkansas is a very quality team. As far as I'm concerned, they're an NCAA Tournament team. They're right there."

Regardless of where LSU lines up against Arkansas, the key is always what kind of tempo is established.

Under first-year coach Mike Anderson, the Hogs will press relentlessly and look to force turnovers and speed the Tigers up. Arkansas leads the SEC with 9 steals a game and had 12 against LSU in a 69-60 triumph on Jan. 14.

With center Justin Hamilton playing well, sophomore Johnny O'Bryant back in the lineup after missing five games and Storm Warren providing a steady presence, the Tigers' best chance seems to be to force the Hogs into a half-court game where they have to play defense for extended periods, especially inside.

Andre Stringer

That means staying careful and patient against the Arkansas press and not giving away possessions. That task falls on point guard Anthony Hickey and backcourt mates Ralston Turner, Andre Stringer and backup Chris Bass.

"They want to run no doubt," Stringer said. "We can play both ways, but we have to slow them down and get them out of rhythm and be the more disciplined team."

Added Warren, "They come out with a press and try their best to speed you up and keep everything going at a fast pace and make you play their tempo. We have to keep them from doing that. It's not a tough adjustment. We have to approach it from a team standpoint."

That standpoint also centers around what is becoming a drastic need to shoot the ball better.

Should the Tigers slow the pace to their liking and attack Arkansas from the half-court, they'll have to make it productive offense and not just well-run. That means shooting better than the 40.7% LSU enters the game at in SEC play.

It also means Stringer and Turner have to find their shooting strokes. Stringer is shooting only 31% from the field in league play, 28.1% from 3-point range. Turner is worse at 28.6% overall although he has starting showing signs of life from outside, hitting three of his last five attempts.

Ralston Turner

"We have to have good offense, good efficient offense, take good shots and score the ball," Johnson said. "Then we can get back and get our defense formed. When we shoot 40% or whatever we're shooting, you're putting way too much pressure on your defense to get stops vs. the caliber of the people we're playing. We have to score the ball. We have to start scoring the basketball and shoot good percentages."

Not that defense will be forgotten.

When the teams collided in January, Arkansas shot a sizzling 54.2% from the floor (13 of 24) in the second half to break open a nip-and-tuck battle. The Razorbacks are coming off a similar performance on Tuesday when they scored 50 second-half points against Vanderbilt.

The Hogs' guards are a huge key. In the previous game against LSU, freshman B.J. Young came off the bench for 19 points, Julysses Nobles notched 15 and Mardracus Wade contributed 14 as that trio accounted for 48 of Arkansas' 69 points. The three combined to drain 8-of-13 from 3-point range.

"We have to do a better job in terms of defending their perimeters," Johnson said. "All three of them are immensely improved."

"They're a much-improved team than the team we saw the first time. For us, we have to chase them off the 3, but also level them (defensively) because all of their perimeter players shoot the 3 deep, but also can put on the floor."

CHALK TALK: Arkansas at LSU

VIDEO: Tigers on facing Arkansas

VIDEO: Johnson preps for Razorbacks

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