Johnny Jones' squad had defensive problems galore in Athens to begin the week, allowing a previously wounded Georgia Bulldog team to score at will in a 91-78 loss for LSU Thursday night. The Tigers rebounded two days later with Auburn in town, scratching out an 87-80 victory over the War Eagles.
LSU now stands at 15-7 overall, 6-4 in SEC play.
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 through the end of the 2013-14 season.
1. LSU can't keep snowball of momentum rolling
Just when things were starting to look as positive as they had all season, with the Tigers having won two straight at home versus the Wildcats and Razorbacks, LSU laid an egg in Athens. Georgia took LSU out of its game completely, with the home-standing Bulldogs the clear aggressor of the two teams Thursday night.
The loss, and the really stunning way in which it unfolded, was the latest in a series of signs this season that the Bayou Bengals struggle to string wins together and to win at all on the road. That's a dangerous and bad combination as we approach time for tournament play, where consistency above all else is rewarded.
LSU has taken fans down this road several other times already this season – losing unexpectedly versus Rhode Island when a 10-2 non-conference run looked a certainty, and falling at sub-.500 Alabama after winning two in a row to build some momentum in SEC play. Prosperity is a good thing, but this LSU team has to learn how to thrive following a little bit of success.
2. Morgan's injury means the Tigers are down a man
In the waning moments of LSU's win over Auburn, sophomore guard Malik Morgan suffered a scary injury to his right knee. Johnny Jones gave no particulars in the postgame press conference, but the second-year head coach made it clear the situation was serious.
Randy Rosetta of NOLA.com/The Times Picayune is reporting Morgan tore a tendon in his patella that will require surgery, meaning Morgan's 2013-14 season is over. The former John Curtis prep star was averaging 4.4 points and 3.1 rebounds in 15.5 minutes a game.
Morgan actually moved into the starting lineup for a five-game stretch toward the beginning of SEC play to give the Tigers some added length and outside shooting. He resumed his role off the bench starting with the Kentucky game. Without Morgan, LSU's trusted eight-man rotation will take a small hit. Freshman Tim Quarterman stands to gain the most, from a minutes and production standpoint, while Jones will also have to turn to Shane Hammink in spots and give Andre Stringer as many minutes as he can handle so that LSU can get by at the two position.
Bottom Line: LSU loses another outside shooter (at a premium on this team) and gets a little less athletic in the backcourt, but the Tigers do have a chance to put a more consistently solid defensive five out on the floor with Quarterman/Hammink filling in.
3. Veteran backcourt is springing back to life
This is really just a continuation of my final point in last week's OTB – that LSU's veteran core is trying to make a strong push coming down the stretch of the 2013-14 season. But, while O'Bryant, Coleman and others struggled in Athens (dying a slow death with foul trouble early and often), Anthony Hickey and Andre Stringer came alive. What's more: they carried it over to the Auburn game, where LSU needed their scoring desperately.
Here were Hickey's two lines from the week that was: 9 points, 2 rebounds, 4 assists and 0 turnovers at Georgia; 17 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 turnovers versus Auburn. And Stringer's: 19 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists and 0 turnovers at Georgia; 18 points, 4 rebounds, 7 assists and 3 turnovers versus Auburn.
Impressively the duo, with one starting and one coming off the bench, combined for only five turnovers in the two games. That's all the more amazing considering Hickey played 70 minutes of basketball and Stringer 55. They were also dynamite from deep, with Stringer connecting six times over the two games and Hickey eight times. Defense is a different story, as it was for the entire LSU team last week, but offensively two of the Tigers' most relied upon producers are finding the range. They'll need to stay locked in with teams still double-teaming O'Bryant with regularity.
The Tigers take to the road for two consecutive games this week, beginning Week Six of SEC play in College Station Wednesday night. LSU will play Texas A&M (13-10, 4-6) at 8 p.m. Central time. CST will carry the television broadcast. Since starting their conference schedule at 3-0, Billy Kennedy's Aggies have lost six of seven.
LSU finishes off the coming week at one of the most difficult places to win in the league – Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville. The Bayou Bengals will take on Arkansas (15-8, 4-6) on Saturday afternoon, with tip-off set for 4 p.m. ESPNU will carry the television broadcast. The Razorbacks enter this week on a two-game winning streak and will travel to Columbia to play Missouri Thursday night, meaning Arkansas will be on short rest when LSU arrives Saturday.
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