LSU last won the regular season conference championship outright in 2006 and over the past 23 years LSU has accomplished that feat only twice. You’d have to go all the way back to 1985 for the last year that the Tigers won the SEC regular season crown prior to the 2005-’06 campaign.
If trying to win the SEC on the road wasn’t bad enough, Trent Johnson and Co. will be trying to pull off a victory in the conference’s largest and most imposing venue. Historic Rupp Arena, home to the Kentucky Wildcats (19-9, 8-5), their seven national championship banners and 23,000 screaming fans.
“We are back at it again going to play a Kentucky Wildcat basketball team in Lexington that is probably going to be a little bit testy I would think after getting beat by South Carolina,” said LSU coach Trent Johnson. “It’s the same old story for us. They cause a multitude of problems because of their length. This will be the longest and most athletic team that we have faced.”
Kentucky is experiencing a down year by its lofty standards. The Wildcats jumped out to a 5-0 lead in conference play, but have since gone 3-5 down the stretch. They were mathematically eliminated from winning a share of the conference title on Wednesday night, when South Carolina shelled them by a score of 77-59. The Gamecocks are now the only team in the conference capable of splitting for the championship.
Still, the Tigers expect a full house to support the cats.
“I went there when I was a sophomore. We had a chance to beat them. I had a really good game, and we had a chance to beat them,” said junior forward Tasmin Mitchell. “Rupp is part of the Bluegrass State. Kentucky is basketball, and Rupp Arena is a very historic place. It holds over 25,000 people strong. Rupp is one of the hardest places to play, so it’s a good thing we only play there once every other year. It is a tough place.”
Meeks is the SEC’s leading scorer, averaging a staggering 25.1 points per game, while Peterson averages 18.3 points and 9.1 boards a contest.
As Tiger fans well know, LSU has its own set of scorers to counter the Bluegrass State’s duo.
Senior guard Marcus Thornton is the conference’s No. 2 scorer behind Meeks, averaging 20.9. Mitchell averages 16.8 points, good enough for No. 8 in the league. Like Patterson, Mitchell is also a top-10 rebounder, grabbing 7.3 a game.
“It is going to be a hyped up game, but we are going to have to go in and do what we have done the whole year to get us this far and that is taking it one step at a time,” Thornton said. “We can’t let the hype get to us as a team. We have to go in there and get the job done.”
LSU will have a chance to make a statement to a national audience, as the game will be televised on CBS. A win would not only secure the SEC championship, but could help the Tigers’ postseason standing with those that haven’t seen many LSU games this year.
LSU (24-4, 12-1) at Kentucky (19-9, 8-5)
Feb. 28, 2009 at 3 p.m. CT
Rupp Arena – Lexington, Kent.
LSU Probable Starters
G – Marcus Thornton (6-4, 205, Sr.) 20.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg
G – Garrett Temple (6-6, 190, Sr.) 7.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 4.2 apg
G – Bo Spencer (6-1, 180, So.) 11.6 ppg, 2.7 apg
F – Tasmin Mitchell (6-7, 235, Jr.) 16.6 ppg, 7.3 rpg
C – Chris Johnson (6-11, 210, Sr.) 8.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 2.8 bpg
G – Chris Bass (6-0, 180, Fr.) 1.0 ppg, 1.6 apg
G – Terry Martin (6-6, 210, Sr.) 4.7 ppg, 2.3 rpg
G – Alex Farrer (6-5, 205, Jr.) 1.9 ppg, 0.8 apg
F – Quintin Thornton (6-9, 225, Sr.) 3.0 ppg, 2.7 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
Kentucky Probable Starters
G – Jodie Meeks (6-4, 208, Jr.) 25.1 ppg, 3.5 apg
G – Ramon Harris (6-7, 218, Jr.) 5.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg
G – Michael Porter (6-3, 198, Jr.) 3.9 ppg, 1.8 rpg
F – Patrick Patterson (6-9, 235, So) 18.3 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 1.8 bpg
F – Perry Stevenson (6-9, 207, Jr.) 7.5 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 2.1 bpg
G – DeAndre Liggins (6-6, 202, Fr.) 4.9 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 3.3 apg
G – Darius Miller (6-7, 223 Fr.) 4.8 ppg, 3.2 rpg
F – Josh Harrellson (6-10, 265, So.) 4.3 ppg, 2.9 rpg
G – Landon Sloan (6-3, 188, Fr.) 1.6 ppg, 1.2 rpg