LSU (16-4, 4-1) came off a draining defeat to No. 13 Xavier last week and had to face the preseason SEC favorite Tennessee Volunteers on the road. It would have been perfectly understandable for LSU to drop one in Knoxville, but the Tigers shot lights out in the first half and held off a late rally to grab the 79-73 win.
“When Xavier made that run, I don’t think we had a cushion like we did against Tennessee,” said senior guard Garrett Temple. “We played well at the beginning of the second half as well as the first half, and we didn’t knock down some shots, and they went on a 13-0 run on us, but we stayed poised.
“The best part about that game is that we stayed poised. They took the lead, and we just stayed with it. Marcus Thornton hit some tough shots. Chris Johnson had a lot of big rebounds and defensive plays, and everyone contributed. We stayed together and got the win. It was a really big victory for us.”
The victory certainly made an impression on fans both in Baton Rouge and around the conference, but don’t tell that to LSU coach Trent Johnson.
“Their coach (Bruce Pearl) made a comment that they needed to win that game, and for us to be undermanned in terms of our post play and they’re really strong there with Wayne Chism and Tyler Smith,” said Johnson. “What it means is that we are capable of competing at a high level and winning games on the road and at home now. That’s all it means, no more or no less.”
For fans and alumni, Saturday marks a celebration of LSU’s 100th basketball season. An Alumni game starring former greats like Stanley Roberts, Rudy Macklin and Howard Carter will start at 12:30 p.m.
“It’s great to see those guys come back – guys like Geert Hammink and Ethan Martin. I’m just hoping my brother doesn’t shoot the ball every time he gets it in the Alumni Game like he did when he played,” said senior guard Garrett Temple with a laugh. “It’s great to see both my dad and brother playing and that I have a couple of ties in the 100-year anniversary.”
But with Arkansas (13-5, 1-4) interrupting the ceremonies for a 4 p.m. tipoff, it will be all business for the current batch of Tigers.
Arkansas picked up its first conference win of the season Thursday night against Alabama, 89-80. The Razorbacks have been on a surprising skid since SEC play opened, as they were the conference’s hottest team through early January.
“Arkansas, my goodness, everybody talks about the SEC being down a lot … This is a team like any other team in our league that is extremely talented,” said Johnson. “I take defense having been through five league games when people say that this league is down on a national level. This league is young. A team like Arkansas you may say has had its ups and downs, but they’ve been able to beat two nationally-ranked teams and then struggled against teams who supposedly aren’t that good.”
If the Tigers can pull out the win, they will have navigated perhaps the toughest leg of their schedule with a 3-1 record. Since Jan. 28 the Tigers have faced off against defending SEC West champion Mississippi State, No. 13 Xavier, and defending SEC East champion and preseason SEC favorite Tennessee with impressive marks throughout.
LSU (16-4, 4-1) vs. Arkansas (13-5, 1-4)
Jan. 31, 2009 at 4 p.m. CST
Pete Maravich Assembly Center, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Projected LSU Starters
G 5 Marcus Thornton (6-4, 205, Sr.) 19.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg
G 14 Garrett Temple (6-6, 190, Sr.) 7.0 ppg, 4.6 rpg
G 11 Bo Spencer (6-1, 185, So.) 12.1 ppg, 3.1 rpg
F 1 Tasmin Mitchell (6-7, 235, Jr.) 15.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg
C 21 Chris Johnson (6-11, 210, Sr.) 8.2 ppg, 8.0 rpg
G Terry Martin (6-6, 210, Sr.) 4.5 ppg, 1.9 rpg
F Quintin Thornton (6-9, 225, Sr.) 3.6 ppg, 2.9 rpg
F Storm Warren (6-7, 220, Fr.) 2.2 ppg, 2.1 rpg
Projected Arkansas Starters
G 4 Courtney Fortson (5-11, 180, Fr.) 14.2 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 6.4 apg
G 14 Stefan Welsh (6-3, 185, Jr.) 12.4 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 2.2 apg.
G 15 Rotnei Clarke (6-0, 184, Fr.) 11.3 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 1.2 apg
F 00 Michael Washington (6-9, 239, Jr.) 16.8 ppg, 10.2 rpg
F 31 Michael Sanchez (6-8, 236, Fr.) 6.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg
G Jason Henry (6-6, 189, Fr.) 6.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg
G Marcus Britt (6-2, 191, So.) 4.2 ppg, 1.1 rpg
F Marcus Monk (6-6, 225, So.) 4.5 ppg, 3.1 rpg
LSU, winners of four-straight SEC games, brings a 16-4 overall mark and a 4-1 league record into the game. The Tigers are coming off a 79-73 road win over Tennessee in their last outing.
Arkansas, now 13-5 overall and 1-4 in league play, picked up its first league victory on Thursday in Fayetteville with an 89-80 victory over the Crimson Tide.
The Tigers are coming off another solid outing offensively from Marcus Thornton, who is averaging 30 points over LSU's last three games. The senior went for 29 points in Wednesday's nights win over the Volunteers.
Thornton also brings a team-high 19.5 points per game into the contest, good for fourth best in the SEC, while junior Tasmin Mitchell is averaging 15.3 points and 6.3 rebounds a contest. Mitchell's scoring total ranks tenth in the conference.
Mitchell goes into the Arkansas game having scored in double-figures in nine-consecutive games.
Chris Johnson is coming off one of his best performances of the season, posting his second double-double of the campaign with 14 points and 14 rebounds in the win over Tennessee.
Johnson, who added four blocks and one steal against the Vols, is averaging 8.2 points and 8.0 rebounds a game for the Bayou Bengals.
Sophomore guard Bo Spencer and senior Garrett Temple close out head coach Trent Johnson's starting lineup.
Spencer is third on the team in scoring with 12.1 points per game, also recording 2.6 assists a contest.
Temple is averaging 7.0 points, 4.6 rebounds and a team-high 4.2 assists per game. The senior's 45 steals on the season ranks second in the conference.
Johnson and Co. will face a Razorback team that has lost four of its last five games after opening the season by winning 12 of its first 13, which included a pair of highlight wins over Oklahoma and Texas, who are currently ranked No. 4 and No. 11 in the country, respectively.
Led by junior Michael Washington, the lone Southeastern Conference double-double threat, averaging 16.8 points and 10.1 rebounds per game, and guard Courtney Fortson, who is putting in 14.2 points a night, the Razorbacks sport scoring threats on the inside and outside.
Washington's scoring total ranks eight in the conference and he leads the league with 10.1 boards an outing. Fortson is a start to finish threat for opponents, fifth in the SEC in minutes played with an average of 32.39 per game.
Stefan Welsh is going for just over 12 points a game for the Hogs, while guard Rotnei Clarke is recording 11.3 points a cap. Michael Sanchez closes the starting lineup out for the Razorbacks, averaging 6.6 points and 5.3 rebounds per game.
LSU boasts the sixth best (75.9) scoring offense in the SEC, while Arkansas stands one better at the fifth spot (76.9).
The Tigers scoring defense is second best (62.7) in the league, while the Razorbacks sit at the ten spot (70.3).
LSU has the second best (37.7) three-point field goal percentage in the conference, while Arkansas boasts the eighth best (33.5).
On the boards, the Bayou Bengals are the best rebounding team in the SEC, with a rebound margin of +7.3 per game. The Razorbacks are not far off, their +5.7 rebound per game margin is good for fourth in the conference.
Blocking shots, however, would be advantage Tigers.
LSU's 119 blocked shots on the season is good for third best in the conference, while the Razorback's 58 blocked shots is eleventh best in the SEC. Chris Johnson trails only Mississippi State's Jarvis Varnado, who also leads the nation, in blocked shots among SEC teams, swatting away 47 thus far on the season.
The LSU-Arkansas game will be preceded by an alumni game, which tips off at 12:30 p.m. and will feature at least 30 former LSU players. Admission to the LSU Alumni Game is free of charge, while the LSU-Arkansas game has already been declared a sellout.