The hardwood Tigers came into this past week staring at a daunting gauntlet ahead, having to play at streaking Tennessee and home versus Alabama, two teams with a combined 15-9 record in SEC play.
Johnny Jones' troops finished the pair of contests at 1-1, dropping an 82-72 decision on Rocky Top before coming home to prevail over the Tide 97-94 in the program's first-ever triple-overtime game in the PMAC.
LSU now stands at 16-9 overall, 7-7 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. The Alabama win stands above the rest for LSU this season.
Yes, even the Missouri game. The primary reason is because this is a team and a program that had owned the Tigers of late, especially since Anthony Grant took over in Tuscaloosa. Entering Saturday LSU was 1-6 against Grant's Crimson Tide and the program in general had gone 3-10 against Alabama since the start of the 2006-07 season. The Tigers needed a statement win over their rival in the worst way and Saturday's dramatic triumph certainly exorcised some demons.
Now, in no way did the Bayou Bengals play their best game of the season nor were they at their most clutch in the extra periods (think lane violation, Shavon Coleman's fumbled breakaway dunk, two missed free throws from Anthony Hickey in a big spot, Charles Carmouche fouling inexplicably up four with less than eight seconds to play in triple overtime). But, what the Tigers did manage to do was what they've done best all year – erase deficits and instill a since of panic into their opposition. In that sense, as LSU dug out of a 69-59 hole with three minutes remaining in regulation, they showed immense character and fight when the chips were down.
It's because of those factors that Johnny Jones will be able to point back to this win for a long time – this season and beyond – as he continues to stack bricks on this LSU foundation.
2. Opposing guards are scoring on the Tigers at will lately.
Partial credit for this bullet point goes to TSD's Matt McCurdy, who wondered on Twitter Saturday the same thing I was thinking: Just how many guys are fetching season highs against LSU these days?
The obvious answer: too many. The real answer: six, at least since SEC play began 14 games ago. That's right, almost half of the league games LSU has been in, the Tigers have let up a career high in points to a player, with four of those six being guards. They are, beginning with the most recent: Alabama guard Trevor Releford (36), Tennessee guard Jordan McRae (34), Mississippi State freshman guard Craig Sword (25), Vanderbilt forward Rob Odom (20), Texas A&M guard Fabyon Harris (19) and South Carolina freshman forward Michael Carrera (23).
That also means LSU's perimeter players have let up career highs to opposing guys in three straight games. Clearly, the Tigers' size with Hickey and Andre Stringer starting is an issue, but the execution no matter who's in there has been lacking. It's worth noting that Carmouche (who didn't seen enough of the floor to man McRae for long), once put on Releford, did slow his pace considerably. Jones said after the game they should have gone to that matchup sooner.
3. Carmouche passes test; Hickey drives lane; O'Bryant stays efficient.
After Carmouche rode the pine for all but three minutes versus Tennessee for responding poorly to in-game criticism, the senior transfer was injected into the starting lineup versus Alabama by Jones. It was the first time Carmouche started a game since the Missouri home tilt on Jan. 30. He played like a man looking to prove himself versus the Tide, setting a career-high in minutes played (54) while scoring 20 points and grabbing 11 boards. Nice man-up moment for a player who then said all the right things after the game too.
It's been well-document here during our weekly "On the Bounce" basketball therapy sessions that Hickey has been reluctant to attack the rim against set defenses. The player and his coach both talked about it this past week, and it finally began to show up in his play against Alabama. Hickey may have scored just 13 points in the triple-overtime win, but he did only take four threes of his 14 total shot attempts. Early in the game, in particular, he had success taking it hard into the lane. If this is a sign of things to come for LSU, and if Hickey can continue to make it a point of emphasis, better things are coming in the halfcourt for the Tigers' offense.
Sophomore power forward Johnny O'Bryant figured out the whole double-double thing long ago in this 2012-13 season, but there were several areas where even he'd admitted he needed to improve. Chief among them were staying out of foul trouble, not turning it over and better shot selection. Well, he's still been hit or miss in the personal foul department lately and does turn it over a fair amount considering how often he handles the rock, but JOB is beginning to get it from the field. O'Bryant continued his solid shooting this week, going 9-of-16 (56.3%) at Tennessee and 9-of-15 (60.0%) versus Alabama. He's now raised his overall field-goal percentage this season to an even 50.0%. For comparison's sake, O'Bryant shot 39.9% from the field as a freshman.
Four-point play: Johnny Jones announced following the ‘Bama game that junior guard Andre Stringer was a bit "banged up." The undisclosed injury was serious enough that Jones wasn't sure Stringer would be able to go at all entering pregame warm-ups Saturday (explaining the Carmouche start). Ultimately Stringer did play, scoring 10 points and making all three of his efforts from downtown in 33 minutes of action. Looks like he'll be fine going forward … It's been no secret that for all the good offensive habits of freshman guard Malik Morgan, there have been a number of concerns raised from Jones regarding his defense. Morgan is averaging 1.4 steals per game, but he's still playing ‘D' too much with his hands, not his feet. The frosh fouled out for the second time in four games in Knoxville and rang up three more fouls on Saturday … Point guard Anthony Hickey's stranglehold on the individual steals lead in the NCAA has dwindled down to a tight heat. Hickey's still No. 1 with 3.3 steals per game, but No. 2, Oakland's Duke Mondy, is closing in at 3.2 thefts per outing … LSU enters the upcoming week tied for eighth in the SEC with Georgia at 7-7. There are three teams tied for fifth at 8-6 (Missouri, Arkansas and Tennessee). The Tigers play two of those teams this week.
LSU hosts its second straight game in the PMAC Wednesday night versus fellow NIT hopeful Arkansas (17-10, 8-6) at 7 p.m. on the SEC Network. The Tigers finish the week making a return trip to Missouri (19-8, 8-6) on Saturday at 3 p.m. The SEC Network will again have the television broadcast.
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