“It’s a new season, everything else you can throw out the window,” said head coach Trent Johnson. “The only thing I feel good about, and it’s really hard for me to accept, but the bottom line is in non-conference we’re 12-2 and the two teams that beat us were better basketball teams than we are.”
The Tigers have enjoyed a Christmas feast of sorts, capitalizing on a favorable non-conference schedule to reach their lofty record.
Up until the 91-61 loss to Utah on Jan. 6, LSU had enjoyed a four-game winning streak including a 64-52 upending of Washington State. The Utes put a stop to the winning ways, putting up 50 points in the paint on the way to the easy win.
“We did a decent job of taking care of the ball,” Johnson said. “The only thing that was surprising to me was that we broke down. There wasn’t any one guy or two guys, we broke down in all phases. Utah’s a pretty good basketball team and a better basketball team than we are, as hard as it is for me to admit that.”
The Tigers’ reward for the humbling defeat is the Crimson Tide, the team many picked to win the SEC West during the preseason.
Alabama, under 11th-year coach Mark Gottfried, has experienced a similar start to 2009. The Tide enjoyed a five-game home winning streak against the likes of Chattanooga before suffering a seven-point loss at No. 11 Clemson.
“We’re the only ones we’ve got going up there,” said senior shooting guard Marcus Thornton. “We believe in ourselves that we can get it done. The media can say what they want to say, we’ve just got to rally as a team.”
The schedules aren’t the only similarities in this matchup. LSU and Alabama have posted startling similar statistics through 14 games. In the SEC statistical rankings, the Tigers and Tide are ranked within three spots of each other in nine of 19 categories.
With no conference performances to reference, it will be interesting to see which stats hold up. The Crimson Tide lead the conference in three point field goal defense and hold a marked advantage in defensive rebounding, while the Tigers are one of the league’s best teams in three point and field goal percentage.
As they say, something’s got to give.
“[Alabama] is real physical. We’ve got to limit their transition opportunities,” Johnson said. “We’ve got to make sure that when things aren’t going well for us defensively that we don’t come down and take quick shots … it’s a big difference on the road. You really have to play to your strengths, you really have to understand your role, and you really have to make good decisions.
LSU has not won at Alabama since Jan. 31, 2004. The overall series is tied 5-5 in that time span.
Tipoff is set for 12:30 p.m. at Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa. The game will be broadcast on Raycom and 100.7 FM