Looking for momentum ... again

After a start-and-stop beginning to February, the Tigers take another shot at finding a groove against Alabama.

A Saturday night in February isn't where the LSU basketball season will find it definition. That's a process that began in November and has a ways to go.

But for all the chatter about the month being where the Tigers can or might turn their season around, Saturday's home game against Alabama certainly has some added weight behind it.

LSU (13-10, 3-6 SEC) and the Crimson Tide (16-7, 5-4) square off at 6 p.m. at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, the second meeting between the two old rivals.

This is the third game of the month for the Tigers, whose hopes for an NCAA Tournament berth took a major tumble with a rough January. They have split the first two games of February, which has thwarted a chance for immediate momentum.

Is that about to change in the first of back-to-back rematch games at the PMAC?

"We're not that far away," sophomore guard Ralston Turner said. "We've played better these last few games, but we need to start winning and the way to do that is to be more consistent."

Indeed, LSU has shown some life in a win against Arkansas and a loss at Vanderbilt. The Tigers' defense frustrated the up-tempo Razorbacks in a win last Saturday. And even in the loss to the Commodores, LSU managed to hang around – trailing 63-59 at the final media timeout.

But finishing games remains a hurdle the Tigers haven't scaled well since the SEC season began, and that has to be at the top of LSU's to-do list against the Tide.

"We've got to draw from that, we've got to learn from that," Tigers' coach Trent Johnson said of the latest late-game push that fell short. "We've got to stop putting ourselves in that situation."

To avoid problems against Alabama throughout the game, LSU has to handle the Tide's full-court press better and not get frazzled by their athleticism.

In the first meeting, the Tigers coughed the ball up 11 times in the first half – three apiece by guards Anthony Hickey and Andre Stringer – and fell into a 31-19 hole.

Rebounding was the problem in the second half as Alabama whipped LSU on the glass 25-15 in the final 20 minutes.

"The first time we played them, we weren't good," Johnson said matter-of-factly.

"Alabama, I really feel, doesn't matter on the road or at home, they're the same because of their mental and physical toughness is very impressive. What we take from the first time, and what we take from even this group last year, you're going to have to be physical and be smart, and you're going to have to beat this basketball team. They are not going to beat themselves."

Storm Warren and John Isaac could be defensive keys against the Tide.

That seems to make for an easy recipe for success this time around.

"They're going to throw those same looks at us because it worked the first time," senior forward Storm Warren said. "We have to slow down, limit the turnovers and control the glass."

That's easier said than done.

In Johnson's mind, though, the biggest key is for his team to keep plugging away at reaching its potential.

"We need to concern ourselves, consume ourselves with us – what's in that locker room," he said. "Play passionate, play together and play as hard as you can. Continue to trust each other, continue to play through adversity, grasp who we're playing, where we're playing and when we're playing and try to have fun. If we do those things, we'll have a chance to compete at a high level vs. this team and every other team moving forward."

Some personnel shifts seem to favor LSU against Alabama from the first game.

The Tigers have Johnny O'Bryant this time and Alabama will be without Tony Mitchell. That gives LSU more firepower in the paint, and more importantly more depth. Warren and fellow reserve big man Malcolm White are familiar with the Crimson Tide and their primary inside leader, JaMychal Green.

"We know what they like to do and it's up to us to defend them well and frustrate them as much as we can," Warren said.

There apparently won't be a change in the Tigers' starting backcourt, despite Stringer's abysmal shooting slump.

The 5-foot-9 sophomore has missed his last 17 3-point shots and in the last six games is shooting 21.8% overall (12 of 55).

Andre Stringer is looking to end a three-game drought from outside the 3-point arc.

Johnson is holding steady, although he said Eddie Ludwig and freshman John Isaac could factor into the mix more off the bench.

"In terms of Andre, I will continue to start him and I'll continue to encourage him to shoot the ball, be aggressive, and take good shots," Johnson said. "The thing I do like about him, in the last three games, he's probably taken maybe four bad shots. I'm staying with him, and so are his teammates, which are probably more important than me."

Turner echoed that sentiment.

"We just tell him to keep doing what you're doing," he said. "It's not over and I'm sure he'll bounce back."

Meanwhile, Turner has reinvented himself of late to give LSU's offense a different wrinkle.

For most of his career, Turner has been a spot-up jump shooter, but like Stringer, he has struggled to find consistency this season. The last two games, Turner has operated more inside as a cutter and slasher and at 6-6, his frame gives him the chance to do effectively.

The result: Turner has scored in double digits for two games in a row for the first time in SEC games this season and has hit 10-of-17 floor shots with only four attempts from 3-point range.

"I'm just trying to make the right play," he said. "I stopped settling so much with the jump shot and trying to help other people. With my height, I'm able to make some plays like Andre and Hickey can't make. It's good for us because it gives us more looks as an offense."

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