A different look second time around

Tigers and Rebels square off with missing big men back in action.

Seven weeks is a lifetime in college athletics because of how much can change and shift. Then again, sometimes what happens over seven weeks completes a cycle as much as anything.

 

Consider the suddenly ripe-with-meaning LSU-Ole Miss matchup Saturday in at Tad Smith Coliseum Oxford (12:45 p.m./SEC Network).

 

When the Tigers and Rebels launched the SEC campaign on Jan. 5, LSU rolled to one of the most impressive wins of its season and that opening weekend, 81-55 at home.

 

That was against an Ole Miss team without Murphy Holloway and reeling because Coach Andy Kennedy had just dismissed leading scorer Dundecrous Nelson from the team. But the Tigers were also short-handed with forwards Johnny O’Bryant and Malcolm White out of action.

 

As eye-opening as that win was for the Tigers, they struggled immediately after that and tumbled to a 2-5 record in league play. Meanwhile, the Rebels shrugged off the blowout and won four of their next five games to jump right into contention in the SEC.

 

Now, with the regular season about to enter its final week, LSU (17-10, 7-6 SEC) is back in the hunt for one of the top four spots in the league standings while Ole Miss (15-12, 5-8) is simply trying to keep afloat after losing five of its last six games, four by double digits.

 

Full circle? Maybe.

 

But for the Tigers – as it has been all season – their attention is focused on how to beat Ole Miss for a season sweep.

 

“That was early in the year, and both teams have changed a lot,” said Tigers center Justin Hamilton, who torched the Rebels for 23 points and 16 rebounds in the first meeting. “We’re not even looking at that game. We just know that they’re a tough physical team, and we're going to have to rebound the ball really well against them.”

 

Added LSU coach Trent Johnson, “I haven't watched any tape of that game, because they’re a much different team. We’re a much different team.”

 

Murphy Holloway averages 11 points and 8.9 rebounds a game for the Rebels.

Undoubtedly, Ole Miss is different with Holloway.

 

The 6-foot-7, 240-pound junior is averaging 11 points and 8.9 rebounds a game to headline a Rebels’ front line that grabs an average of 38.2 rebounds a game, second in the SEC.

 

“He’s very physical, very competitive, and he rebounds,” Johnson said, emphasizing the last word. “The thing that impresses me about guys like that is he's big, he's strong he's athletic, but mentally and physically he brings a level of toughness. There's going to be a premium Saturday on guys putting a body on a guy and blocking out.”

 

Besides Hamilton, Storm Warren also recorded a double-double against the Rebels (15/11). Those two will be looking for an encore, when they led LSU to a 45-40 edge on the glass.

 

There figures to be quite a bit more resistance in the interior, though, and Georgia might’ve delivered a blueprint for how to contain the 7-foot Hamilton.

 

With Holloway out and Reginald Buckner (7.9 rebounds a game) battling foul trouble, Ole Miss had little means to keep Hamilton from getting the ball whenever and wherever he wanted it, but that should be different on Saturday.

  

The Rebels will likely look to deny Hamilton easy looks, and that’s where Warren, and O'Bryant have to come up big.

Johnny O'Bryant gets a chance against Ole Miss after missing the first game with a broken hand.

  

A native of Cleveland, Miss., O'Bryant missed the first game with a broken hand. A prime recruiting target of Ole Miss, the 6-foot-9, 262-pounder is coming off a 14-point, 8-rebound performance vs. Georgia when he aggressively took the ball to the hole with the Bulldogs double-teaming Hamilton.

 

If LSU can get contributions from Warren, Hamilton and White – a senior and former Rebel facing his former coach and teammates for the last time – they could neutralize the Rebels’ reliance on sagging inside and it could turn into a long day for the home team at the Tad Pad, where Ole Miss is 10-2 this season and 82-17 in Kennedy’s six seasons.

 

“The thing that has always impressed me with (Ole Miss) this year … is how physical and athletic they are, and at times how they can be so dominant from a rebounding standpoint,” Johnson said. “They play exceptional at home.”

 

And the Tigers have struggled on the road this season, although they snapped a five-game SEC road losing streak a week ago at South Carolina.

 

That was part of a four-game winning streak that has vaulted LSU into position where it could climb as high as a tie for second place in the SEC standings with three more wins.

 

That was part of a four-game winning streak that has vaulted LSU into position where it could climb as high as a tie for second place in the SEC standings with three more wins.

 

Should the Tigers do that, they could make a push for an NCAA Tournament berth – a notion that seemed far-fetched in late January. Now it’s at least a goal that is on the horizon.

 

“It's just a matter of what we do between now and the end of the season for where we’re going to be,” Hamilton said. “We just want to go to Ole Miss and get a good road win.”


CHALK TALK: LSU at Ole Miss

LSU statistics


Tiger Blitz Top Stories