DEVILLE: Can Tigers get it together in time?

Remember the 2001 SEC Championship game? How could you forget it, right?

If your memory is a little fuzzy, here's a brief recap.

 

Heavily favored Tennessee was one game away from the national championship game heading into Atlanta. All that stood between the Volunteers and a trip to the Rose Bowl was an 8-3 LSU team that slipped into the SEC title game with a 5-3 league record, the first three-loss team to ever make it to the Georgia Dome.

 

All looked lost early on for the Tigers when in the first quarter a late hit knocked quarterback Rohan Davey out of the game. As Davey eased to the locker room with bruised ribs, unknown and unproven quarterback Matt Mauck came on to lead the Tigers to an improbable 31-20 upset of No. 2 Tennessee.

 

The Volunteers were totally unprepared for the scrambling Mauck, who was a stark contrast to the strong-armed but slow-footed pocket passer Davey. Tennessee wasn't ready for this switch in philosophies and was thrown for a loop when underdog LSU outplayed the Big Orange, ruining its national title hopes.

 

That game came to mind Saturday when LSU, losers of nine of their last 10 games, upset No. 3 ranked Florida in the Pete Maravich Center.

 

It seemed almost like a formality, really, when the defending national champions rolled into Baton Rouge to face the ailing Tigers. Sure, both teams reached the Final Four last season, but the teams have gone in different directions in 2007.

 

Florida wrapped up the SEC title earlier in the week with a 63-49 win and is one of a few teams favored to win the national title. LSU had just lost for the ninth time in 10 games by blowing a 16-point lead at Kentucky. And for the second time in as many games, the Tigers would be without All-American center Glen Davis, who was out with a strained muscle in his leg.

 

Advantage: Tigers.

 

I know you must be thinking I am out of my mind, but the fact Davis didn't play in this game probably helped LSU more than anything.

 

Everyone knows Florida has the best big men in the country in Al Horford and Joakim Noah. Had Davis played in the game, LSU would have centered its offense around Davis inside, where Noah and Horford would have been too tough to handle.

 

But like Tennessee on that night in December of 2001, the Gators weren't ready for the perimeter attack LSU would bring to the table. Nor did they expect the physical play of Darnell Lazare, Magnum Rolle, Dameon Mason and Tasmin Mitchell on Florida's post players.

 

Matt Mauck, anyone?

 

Horford ended up with 13 points and Chris Richard put up 12, but the All-American Noah scored only four points. The Tigers put the clamps down on Noah, reducing his night to 21 frustrating minutes.

 

Speaking of putting the clamps down, Garrett Temple can add another superstar to his list of defensive casualties. J.J. Redick, Acie Law – now Taurean Green. The Gators' leading scorer managed just six points on 1-of-7 shooting from the floor. Florida did shoot 44.7 percent from the floor, but the Gators' starting guards Green and Lee Humphrey combined to go 3-for-14.

 

On the flip side, LSU's perimeter was on fire. The Tigers shot 51.1 percent for the game as Temple, Terry Martin and Mitchell combined for 46 of LSU's 66 points and were 14- of-28 from the floor.

 

Midway through the first half, LSU had hit 10 of 12 shots for an eye-popping 83 percent clip from the floor.

 

Defensively, LSU was just as good. The Gators average 80 points per game, 76 in SEC play. The Tigers limited them to 10 points less than their SEC average and 10 points less than their previous low point-total this season – 66 points in a loss to Florida State.

To put LSU's defensive performance in perspective, with 5:03 remaining in the game, Florida had scored a paltry 35 points.

 

But the most notable stat of the game had to be the fact that LSU, without Davis (the SEC's leading rebounder with 10.6 boards per game), out-rebounded Florida 35-22.

What does all this mean in the grand scheme of things?

 

Sure, it counts as just one win, but it serves as a huge shot in the arm for a Tiger team that has been pretty hard up for anything positive over the past month or so. It does show, however, this team isn't as bad as they have been made out to be by fans and the media.

The record isn't good, but the talent is there. The fact the Tigers have lost eight games by seven points or less proves they are more unlucky than they are bad.

 

LSU has struggled in the final minutes of games as displayed by their record. Brady said after the Florida win, however, he did challenge his team to finish strong in the final five minutes, and finally the Tigers got the job done.

 

So what is next for LSU?

 

Games at Auburn and the regular season finale with South Carolina are definitely winnable, which would get the Tigers to 17 wins. While it is hard to get excited about a possible trip to the NIT, right now that is better than the alternative. A win or two in the SEC Tournament, which is entirely possible, would make LSU a lock for the NIT with either 18 or 19 victories.

 

Brady said Saturday, "We ain't dead yet."

 

The win over Florida proved that and may be just what LSU needs to finish the regular season strong. Sure, the stars would need to align perfectly. But with a hot team in a postseason tournament, anything could happen.

 

Four wins in the SEC Tournament, perhaps?

 

---

 

Matt Deville is the editor of Tiger Rag. Reach him at matt@tigerrag.com.


Tiger Blitz Top Stories