The Tigers defeated Arkansas, 79-69, on their home court earlier in the season in what truly was a tale of two halves.
LSU (21-4, 9-1) jumped out to a 41-21 halftime lead as three Tigers scored in double figures led by Marcus Thornton’s 14 points. LSU limited Arkansas to 26.7 percent from the floor on 8-of-30 shooting, while Johnson’s squad knocked down 14-of-33 shots including 4-of-8 from behind the arc.
LSU’s defense gave Arkansas fits and forced eight turnovers with only three assists, and the Hogs (13-10, 1-9) were outrebounded 27-14 after the first 20 minutes.
The second half, however, was a much different story as Arkansas connected on 20-of-35 field goals for 57.1 percent compared to LSU’s 34.5 percent on 10-of-29 shooting.
The rebounds were even at 18, but LSU turned it over eight times, while Arkansas dished out nine assists and turned it over only six times.
Johnson said that he didn’t watch a lot of film from the first game because it was so long ago, but senior center Chris Johnson and the rest of the Tigers were reminded of how they performed in that dreadful second half where Arkansas outscored LSU, 48-38.
“We actually watched a little bit of film of how we played them in the first game and you could see the second half we just broke down and got too comfortable,” Chris Johnson said. “That’s just something to learn from.”
Arkansas’ success in the second half was a combination of the Tigers falling asleep at the wheel and a solid inside-outside game from the Hogs.
Courtney Fortson, who is second in the SEC with 6.5 assists a game but has committed the most turnovers in the conference with 95, scored nine of his 17 points in the second half and dished out seven assists with only one turnover.
Those three players turned what should have been an easy win into a battle and they have LSU’s utmost respect heading into the rematch.
“There were times late in the second half versus Arkansas much like Fortson’s been doing all year long, he took the game over,” Trent Johnson said. “He got in the lane when he wanted so we know going into this game we have to keep him out of the lane.
“There were times we lost Clark in transition and in the first half shots didn’t go down but the second half the shots went down for him. We have to make sure we close out to him and then Washington can score in a multitude of ways. Again, it starts there and we have to do a good job.”
LSU will once again be without the services of point guard Bo Spencer, who will miss his second consecutive start and is not scheduled to make the trip to Fayetteville. Spencer tied his season-high of 21 points in the first meeting and hit a season-high five three-pointers on six attempts.
In his absence, Terry Martin, who scored 11 points against Ole Miss in his first start of the year, will start in Garrett Temple’s off-guard spot, while Temple moves back to point. Temple, who leads the team with 99 assists, played point guard his first three years with the Tigers and is coming off an impressive showing against Ole Miss where he handed off nine assists and committed only three turnovers.
“He has a lot of experience and played the point also in the Final Four year and years before that,” Chris Johnson said of Temple. “He has a lot of experience but you also know you can trust Garrett Temple at all times because he gives it his all with everything he does, defensively, offensively…That’s a high comfort zone with Garrett.”
LSU’s inside-outside tandem of Marcus Thornton and Tasmin Mitchell will need to come through again as the Tigers are short handed heading into Bud Walton Arena.
Thornton, who is second in the conference in scoring at 20 points a game, went for 18 points in the first meeting between these two teams, while Mitchell posted a double-double with 11 points and 10 boards.
Thornton has scored in double figures in nine straight games and has gone for 30 or more three times while breaking the 20-point plateau three more.
Mitchell has done it from the inside and the outside over the last three contests as he went for a career-high 41 points against Mississippi State last Wednesday, and he’s nailed 5-of-6 threes in his last three outings.
“Tasmin Mitchell is playing unbelievable,” said Arkansas Head Coach John Pelphrey. “He had a huge, huge game against Mississippi State. That doesn’t surprise you. He’s a fourth-year junior. He’s always been talked about as an all-league type player and he’s doing it.”
LSU’s magic number is three to capture the SEC Western Division crown and a win over Arkansas with two straight home games to follow would be a huge step in the right direction.
However, with Fortson returning from a one-game suspension and with Arkansas playing in the friendly confines of Bud Walton Arena, LSU isn’t thinking about any magic numbers or any league championships.
“There’s nothing easy in this league so in terms of our preparation for Arkansas, this is a basketball team that, again for us, it’s real simple,” Trent Johnson said. “If we don’t do the three things (rebound, protect the ball and play defense) pretty well regardless of what time of the year it is, who we’re playing or where we’re playing, we’re going to struggle.”
LSU (21-4, 9-1) at Arkansas (13-10, 1-9)
Feb. 18, 2009 at 7 p.m. CT
Bud Walton Arena – Fayetteville, Ark.
LSU Probable Starters
G – Marcus Thornton (6-4, 205, Sr.) 20.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg
G – Garrett Temple (6-6, 190, Sr.) 6.7 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 4.2 apg
G – Terry Martin (6-6, 210, Sr.) 5.1 ppg, 2.3 apg
F – Tasmin Mitchell (6-7, 235, Jr.) 16.8 ppg, 7.0 rpg
C – Chris Johnson (6-11, 210, Sr.) 8.2 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 2.7 bpg
G – Chris Bass (6-0, 180, Fr.) 2.1 ppg
G – Alex Farrer (6-5, 205, Jr.) 1.1 ppg, 1.6 apg
F – Quintin Thornton (6-9, 225, Sr.) 3.2 ppg, 2.8 rpg
F – Storm Warren (6-7, 220, Fr.) 2.2 ppg, 2.0 rpg
F – Delwan Graham (6-5, 215, Fr.) 1.7 ppg, 1.6 rpg
Arkansas Probable Starters
G – Courtney Fortson (5-11, 180, Fr.) 14.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 6.8 apg
G – Stefan Welsh (6-3, 185, Jr.) 12.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg
G – Rotnei Clarke (6-0, 184, Fr.) 11.0 ppg, 1.9 rpg
F – Michael Sanchez (6-8, 236, Fr.) 6.2 ppg, 5.0 rpg
F – Michael Washington (6-9, 239, Jr.) 16.4 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 1.3 bpg
G – Marcus Britt (6-3, 198, Jr.) 3.3 ppg, 1.8 rpg
F – Brandon Moore (6-9, 215, Fr.) 2.0 ppg, 1.7 rpg
F – Jason Henry (6-6, 189, Fr.) 7.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg