Prior to the season’s tip on Nov. 13, LSU coach Trent Johnson had been firm in his feelings that the 2009 squad would not be the same Tiger team that stormed into the NCAA Tournament after taking the Southeastern Conference regular season crown.
While depth and injury issues have hit an already undermanned side, LSU won their first three – including a 71-60 victory over Western Kentucky that sent the Tigers to the Preseason NIT in Madison Square Garden.
An 81-55 pounding by Connecticut followed by a 71-52 loss to Arizona State was not what Johnson had in mind when he put his team on the flight to New York City, but Monday’s press conference brought no excuses.
“I’m trying to find positives from the past week,” Johnson said. “It wasn’t a very good week, and that has to do with all of us. This is a group that doesn’t like losing, especially in that kind of setting. I’ve always said that in these nationally televised games, you can’t hide. You can’t run to your mom, your girlfriend, your dad or your AAU coach and say, ‘Well, coach didn’t do this, or I didn’t do that.’ No, everybody sees it.
“We have been exposed; they know what they need to work on, and that is a good sign,” he added. “Injuries and a depleted roster so-to-speak is not an excuse for not playing good basketball.”
In game one against Connecticut, both Husky guards – Jerome Dyson and Kemba Walker – went for 20 points. Three Huskies also recorded more rebounds than Storm Warren, whose eight boards led the Tiger side.
“Whether they intimidated us or whatever, I just didn’t like our lack of aggression and our overall constant effort in terms of sprinting back,” Johnson said. “I base that off of Eddie Ludwig, who is probably the least of our athletes, and his ability to make some plays and find some balls in that game.”
In the consolation match on Friday against Arizona State, which the Tigers played without injured guard Bo Spencer, LSU held a 34-27 lead after shooting 60 percent over the first 20 minutes.
In the second half, the Tigers went cold – hitting just 5-of-25 from the field. LSU also turned the ball over 13 times against a 2/3-zone defense, which is designed to allow the opposition to move the ball freely on the perimeter.
“We played as good a half of basketball against Arizona State as we have all year, but in the second half, I thought we got away from what we did in the first half,” Johnson said.
After the loss, the injured Spencer, who is looked at as one of the veteran leaders of the young Tiger squad, came forward with words of motivation.
“Bo had made a comment that our approach in practice in understanding a sense of urgency and all those kinds of things starts with him and that he needs to step up,” Johnson said. “I thought that was very interesting. It remains to be seen.”
Spencer’s status for Tuesday night’s home game against Louisiana-Lafayette remains uncertain.
“He hasn’t practiced because of his ankle, and he has some academic work that he has to get done, so he won’t be out there [Monday],” Johnson said.
“I don’t know if he’s going to play,” he added. “Obviously, we are in a situation where [Tuesday] in the shoot-around, if he shows he has the ability to pass and cut to my liking and to Shawn Eddy and our medical people, yes, he’ll play. But, right now he’s got his hands full with some academics, and he has his hands full with his ankle.”
Against a Ragin’ Cajun team that took the Tigers to the wire last season before falling short 81-79, the focus has quickly turned away from New York City and back to the task at hand.
“We struggled to beat this group last year, and I’ve always felt this with them, it’s just a matter of time,” Johnson said. “My concern is as talented as they are, our guys know they have to be ready to play. It’s about us getting back out here and playing well, keeping this thing simple, passing and catching with two hands, rebounding and enjoying playing.”