Tigers tangle with Tigers

The more recognition that No. 23 LSU gets, the closer to the edge it lives. The Tigers (22-4, 10-1) are ranked for the first time this season and are enjoying a three-game lead in the SEC standings with just five games left to play.

But after blowing through the first half of the conference schedule, LSU has clawed its way to the past three wins with a double overtime victory at Mississippi State, a 19-4 run in the final nine minutes to down Ole Miss, and an 18-point rally to survive against Arkansas.


“We need to start playing better, I can tell you that,” said LSU Head Coach Trent Johnson. “The first half [against Arkansas] was pretty ugly. I don’t want to take anything away from Arkansas, but we shot it quick at times, we didn’t make good decisions and we just didn’t play well.”


The Tigers have now played four of their five SEC West rivals both home and away, but they have not played Saturday’s opponent – the Auburn Tigers – at all. Neither Johnson nor his players could figure out why they had not met Auburn at least once so late into the season, but all agreed the other Tigers are on a hot streak.


Auburn has won four-straight games, including a last-second thriller against Tennessee, since starting SEC play with a 1-3 record. The streak is Auburn’s best in the conference since the 2002-03 season when they started league play 4-0 and went on to advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.


A win over LSU would give Auburn five straight SEC wins which would be the best run since Auburn won eight straight league games in the 1998-99 SEC Championship season.


If Auburn is going to get that mark then they will need a big game from their top three scorers DeWayne Reed (13.1), Korvotney Barber (12.6) and Tay Waller (12.4).


Reed has scored in double figures in three of Auburn’s last four contests and Waller is one of the SEC’s most dangerous three-point shooters. He has 75 threes on the year, which is second in the conference, and he is No. 3 at 36.1 percent from behind the arc.


Barber has been one of the most consistent post players in league play as the six-foot-seven, 225-pound forward is the only player in the SEC who is averaging a double-double in conference games with 12.5 points and 11.2 rebounds a game.


Auburn’s four guard offense is similar to Mississippi State and leads the SEC in three-point attempts. However, the Tigers from the Plains have connected on only 201 threes for 32.9 percent , good for only 10th in the conference.


Don’t let those stats fool you, though, because although Auburn is hitting only 35.3 percent of their threes over the last four games, shots from other spots on the floor have been falling as Auburn is hitting 47.8 percent from the field over that span.


“We’re playing a good basketball team,” Johnson said. “They’re very similar to Mississippi State in terms of how they stretch you on the perimeter with their perimeter quickness. They’re coming off five or six games where they’re playing extremely well, and we have to play better basketball.”


It’s hard to play better basketball in the case of junior forward Tasmin Mitchell. Mitchell is averaging 16.9 points and 7.3 rebounds over the course of the season, and has provided much of the fuel during the Tigers’ 10-game conference win streak.


Mitchell’s 41 points led LSU past Mississippi State, and his 12 points and six rebounds in the first half at Arkansas were the lone bright spots in a dismal stretch.


“Coach told us we could load the bus up and go home,” Mitchell said. “Right then we decided, ‘Nah. We’ll go hard for you coach.”


Some of LSU’s struggles of late stem from the loss of sophomore point guard Bo Spencer. Spencer went down with a sprained ankle in the Feb. 11 marathon at Mississippi State. He has not played in either of the past two games, and he didn’t even travel to Fayetteville.


When reporters asked Bo what his status was Thursday, he said he’d just practiced for the first time and he was hoping to play against Auburn.


“He thinks he can play, but he thought he could play Wednesday,” Johnson said. “The key is how he adjusts if there’s any swelling or anything. If he is able to go I will probably start him because I won’t get him warmed up and sit him and give [the ankle] a chance to stiffen.”


LSU will have a height advantage inside with Mitchell and 6-foot-11, 210-pound center Chris Johnson. LSU also features the SEC’s second leading scorer in Marcus Thornton, who averages 20.3 points a game and has scored 30 or more three times in the last nine games. He’s gone for 20 or more four other times including his 28-point performance against Arkansas.


If LSU wins Saturday night it comes within one game of clinching at least a tie for the SEC regular season championship. Should the home Tigers beat the visiting Tigers, it will set up a chance to secure a share of the title Tuesday against Florida on ESPN.



LSU (22-4, 10-1) vs. Auburn (17-9, 6-5)

Feb. 21, 2009 at 7 p.m. CT

Pete Maravich Assembly Center – Fayetteville, Ark.

LSU Probable Starters

G – Marcus Thornton (6-4, 205, Sr.) 20.3 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.) 5.0 ppg, 2.2 apg

F – Tasmin Mitchell (6-7, 235, Jr.) 16.9 ppg, 7.3 rpg

C – Chris Johnson (6-11, 210, Sr.) 8.4 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 2.8 bpg


Key Reserves

G – Chris Bass (6-0, 180, Fr.) 1.0 ppg, 1.7 apg

G – Alex Farrer (6-5, 205, Jr.) 2.0 ppg, 0.9 apg

F – Quintin Thornton (6-9, 225, Sr.) 3.1 ppg, 2.8 rpg

F – Storm Warren (6-7, 220, Fr.) 2.3 ppg, 2.0 rpg

F – Delwan Graham (6-5, 215, Fr.) 1.7 ppg, 1.6 rpg


Auburn Probable Starters

G Tay Waller (6-2, 180, Jr.) 12.4 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 1.5 apg

G Quantez Robertson (6-3, 200, Sr.) 6.1 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 3.3 apg

G Rasheem Barrett (6-5, 200, Sr.) 9.3 ppg, 2.9 rpg

G DeWayne Reed (6-1, 175, Jr.) 13.1 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 4.0 apg

F Korvotney Barber (6-7, 225, Sr.) 12.6 ppg, 9.5 rpg


Key Reserves

G – Frankie Sullivan (6-1, 185, Fr.) 7.1 ppg, 2.0 rpg

F – Lucas Hargrove (6-6, 205, Jr.) 8.2 ppg, 5.5 rpg

F – Brendon Knox (6-10, 220, Jr.) 2.4 ppg, 1.9 rpg


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