LSU (4-2) was exposed in New York over Thanksgiving, losing big to both Connecticut and Arizona State.
The two stronger sides spotlighted both the lack of depth and injuries that have plagued the Tiger lineup, and future opponents certainly took notice.
After a home win against Louisiana-Lafayette on Dec. 1, a much-needed break gave the Tigers some time away from competition, which both the staff and players said could not have come at a better time.
“It was a great time to focus on school, but on the basketball court also,” said guard Chris Bass. “Everybody has been getting after each other.”
For junior guard Bo Spencer, “getting after each other” is rooted in the understanding that the road ahead would be a rough one.
“We realized that it is not going to be as easy as we thought,” he said. “We really are going to have to come out and play hard everyday, practice hard everyday and just give 100-percent in everything we do.”
Senior forward Tasmin Mitchell called the handful of December practices the hardest that the Tigers have been pushed under Johnson during the sessions so far this season.
On Thursday, the LSU headman touched on a few of his biggest focuses coming out of the break.
“I always talk about being aggressive, and that’s one of the things with us,” Johnson said. “We can’t let a missed shot or a bad play dictate how we compete at the other end of the floor. We can’t feel sorry for ourselves because of an injury or a mood swing here or there. That’s probably been the one thing that has been going on during the course of these last three or four days of practice.
“Our mental and our physical toughness are being challenged. You have to stay aggressive. You know that old term, ‘Woe is me?’ There is no feeling sorry for ourselves.”
Dennis Harris, who has two herniated discs in his lower back, an initial diagnose that took place last July, reinjured his back on Dec. 6. Johnson said that Harris has missed two practices, and remains a game-time decision for Saturday.
Johnson also updated the injury recovery statuses of Garrett Green, Aaron Dotson and Spencer to “90-percent.”
Spencer, who came off the bench against ULL, remains a game-time decision.
“Eddie Ludwig would start for Dennis Harris,” Johnson said. “We have two more days (to decide if Spencer will start), and he’s going to have to practice better.”
Looking for playmakers to step up while others are down, the message over the past week has been to maintain high energy and the minutes would fall in place.
“We’ve got to compete, and like I told them, let your ability to set a screen, let your ability to defend, let your ability to sprint back on defense dictate the kind of player you are,” Johnson said. “Defense, rebounding and taking care of the ball is going to give you a chance to stay in games and compete.”
Spencer, who after the Arizona State loss voiced his desire to move into a leadership role, said that the missteps early could be fixed with consistently heady play – which means eliminating costly turnovers that have been scattered throughout each of the Tigers’ outings.
“Coach tells us to stay in our stance, quit being so casual and lackadaisical with the ball,” he said. “We are trying to get back together, take care of the ball.”