Some good and some bad this week as the Bayou Bengals went one up and one down on the hardwood.
LSU held on for a home win against Vanderbilt on Wednesday night, 57-56, after leading by 13 at the half (and despite shooting 36.0% from the field) and then fell on the road Saturday night at Alabama, 60-57, in a game the Tigers made interesting at the end.
LSU now stands at 13-8 overall, 4-6 in the SEC.
Below I provide three quick hitters on the Tigers, highlighting the latest and most important team news and trends on the court.
Keep an eye out for this weekly feature on Sunday nights through the end of the 2012-13 season.
1. This team may not always play smart, but they play hard.
The shooting percentages – from the field, stripe and arc – aren't where Johnny Jones would like them to be. Nor are the rebounding efforts on the defensive glass, the levels of offensive creativity or the first-half efforts on the road. But these Tigers do fight tooth and nail until the bitter end of every game.
We saw two more examples of that this past week, with LSU getting two huge crunch-time free throws from Johnny O'Bryant to hold off Vandy and then clawing back into contention late at Alabama after going down nine, 54-45, with 4:10 to play. In each instance the purple and gold refused to say die when things got tight down the stretch.
The bottom line is these guys play for Jones in his first year, a great sign for the future. And for the present, it means these Tigers are at least a slight cut above where many, including me, thought they might be.
2. If Hickey can't get it in transition, he's going to settle for threes.
It's been a developing trend this season that's impossible not to notice. Point guard Anthony Hickey, LSU's human blur, is dynamite in the open court or after he's turned over the opposition. In most other situations, however, when the game's slowed down to a half-court pace, the sophomore struggles to muster the same kind of brilliance or ingenuity.
Against Vanderbilt, eight of Hickey's 14 shot attempts were threes. The next game at ‘Bama, four of Hickey's 11 shots came from downtown. In all this season, Hickey has attempted 224 shots, with 126 of those coming from deep (or 56.3% of his shots). That's up from a season ago when only 47.9% of his shots (140 of 292) were three-point attempts. Now all that would be fine if Hickey were a deadeye from beyond the arc, but he's shooting only 31.7% in 2012-13.
Hickey's inability to get into the lane and create for himself and others against a set defense – zone or man – has proven to be one of, if not the, Achilles heel for the Tigers this season. That problem becomes all the more magnified when you consider the decidedly un-frenetic pace at which much of the SEC plays. And postseason play, should LSU make it there, is more of the same.
3. There was a lot to take away from the final moments at Alabama.
But perhaps nothing more evident than the team's trust in junior Andre Stringer late in the game to knock down a big three. In games past the big shots have all had to come from Hickey, most of which were last-ditch running floaters and leaning bankers in transition. On Saturday, though, the Tigers turned to Stringer on multiple occasions, despite Hickey's prior track record and O'Bryant's big night.
Following two missed free throws by Trevor Releford with 1:11 to play and an O'Bryant rebound, the ball found its way into Stringer's hands, and the Jackson, Miss., native couldn't connect with 59 seconds left and LSU down 56-53. As fate turned out, Stringer got another chance. The Tide missed four of its next six free throws, and the Tigers were again down only three, 60-57, with 13 seconds left. LSU ran a designed play for Stringer, with Hickey flipping him the ball and letting No. 10 come over the top of him and shoot from deep with seven ticks left. Another miss. We'll see if these battle scars serve to toughen Stringer, who's never been afraid to hoist one, as something tells me we haven't seen the last of him taking big treys late in ballgames for LSU this season.
The other major takeaway: LSU is very much still learning how to close games, despite winning back-to-back one-point contests at State and against Vandy. On Saturday, the Tigers got bone-headed inbounds passes from players young and old in the final 73 seconds. First senior Charles Carmouche got his signals crossed with Hickey and threw a ball to air underneath the Crimson Tide's basket. Then, after getting a gift possession with barely any time left and the ball near midcourt, frosh Shane Hammink tosses it to Hickey, who's standing at least 75 feet from the hoop. Neither was smart, and those are the kinds of plays you can't make if you want to win late on the road.
Four-point play: Since the Georgia game in Athens Jan. 19, Johnny O'Bryant has owned the boards for LSU, pulling down an average of 10.7 rebounds per game. Of course the Tiger sophomore is still figuring out how to hold onto the ball, averaging 3.7 turnovers an outing during that same span … Point guard Anthony Hickey, once at 3.8 steals per game, is down to an average of 3.4 swipes per contest, still tops in the country and 0.2 per game more than Oakland's Duke Mondy … Freshman Corban Collins (concussion, facial stitches) returned to action wearing a mask on Feb. 2 at Mississippi State. He played just three minutes combined during this week's two games, failing to log a single statistic … Fellow freshman Malik Morgan has now started three straight games in place of Charles Carmouche and is truly become a part of the trusted rotation. He averaged 26 minutes of run this week, scoring 16 total points and making 3-of-7 from deep, where he's becoming one of the team's most reliable three-point shooters.
LSU travels to Columbia on Valentine's Day – Thursday – to play at South Carolina (12-11, 2-8) on ESPN2 at 6 p.m. before coming back home to host Mississippi State (7-15, 2-8) Saturday at 4 p.m. The Tigers will be taking on the two worst teams, in terms of in-conference record, in the SEC.
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