LSU coach Trent Johnson let go of a huge sigh moments after his team fell to 0-2 in the SEC and 9-7 overall with its fifth loss in six games -- 67-58 at South Carolina. It is looking like a very long season.
"We'll learn from this," Johnson said. "We've got to build off this. We did defend well. But we can't get sped up by a team."
The Tigers travel to Florida on Saturday, and the Gators have been struggling, too. Florida (11-5, 0-2 SEC) has a loss to South Alabama at home this season and dropped its SEC opener at Vanderbilt on Jan. 9 before losing at home to No. 2 Kentucky.
SOUTH CAROLINA 67, LSU 58
The Tigers led 35-27 at halftime and by four at the midway point of the second half, but they collapsed over a six-minute span down the stretch and allowed a 17-1 run to the Gamecocks. With 9:04 to play, LSU took a 49-45 lead. At the three-minute mark, however, it found itself down 62-50 as Devan Downey took over the game. He finished with 29 points.
"We got real careless," Coach Trent Johnson said. "We had too many turnovers. We played well for 30 minutes, but it's a 40-minute game. We were executing offensively, but we got in a stretch where we couldn't do anything."
Briefly, it looked like LSU's night. Dennis Harris had a dunk to put the Tigers up 49-45, and he allowed himself to celebrate. South Carolina immediately scored as LSU did not get back, and the run was on.
"Next thing you know, it's boom, boom, boom," Johnson said.
--As hot as LSU was in a 23-point pounding of McNeese State in its previous game, the Tigers were just as cold in their conference opener against Alabama.
Coming off a 59.6-percent effort against McNeese, the Tigers shot only 37 percent in losing 66-49 to the Tide.
Then they compounded their shooting woes with 15 turnovers that they saw as mostly self-inflicted.
"It wasn't their press that bothered us at all," junior guard Bo Spencer said. "We could've cracked the press, but we were just being lazy with the ball. It wasn't their pressure that bothered us. We were just being too casual with the ball."
Senior forward Tasmin Mitchell agreed.
"I think it was mainly us," he said. "There wasn't anything too major that they did. They defended very well on the half-court when the press was broken. We just couldn't convert on the other end."
--LSU's loss to Alabama marked the fourth consecutive year the Tigers have lost their conference opener. Three of those years they lost to the Tide, including last season and in 2006-07. In 2007-08 they lost to Mississippi State. They recovered from last season's loss in Tuscaloosa to win their next 13 conference games on their way to the overall SEC championship.
--Freshman F Dennis Harris was one bright spot for the Tigers in the loss to Bama. He came off the bench to hit all five of his field goal attempts, including one three-pointer, on his way to 11 points. He also had three rebounds and didn't have a turnover in 15 minutes of play.
ON THE SPOT: The Tigers were only 5-of-18 on 3-point tries against Bama after going 10-of-21 in their previous game against McNeese. For the season, they are shooting only 30.2 percent from behind the arc after shooting 37.2 percent last season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We weren't ready to play. We weren't as mentally ready as the other team." -- G Bo Spencer, after the Tigers' loss at home to Alabama.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SEASON RECAP: The Tigers have lost five of their last six games going back to three days before Christmas when they dropped an overtime affair to Washington State in Seattle. They were pounded 89-65 at Xavier, lost at home to Utah, and then ended the three-game slide by beating McNeese State in their final non-conference game before losing to Alabama.
Usual Starters -- F Tasmin Mitchell, F Storm Warren, G Aaron Dotson, G Bo Spencer, G Chris Bass.
Key Subs -- F Dennis Harris, F Garrett Green, F Eddie Ludwig, G/F Zach Kinsley.
Utah 61, LSU 59
LSU 83, McNeese State 60
Alabama 66, LSU 49
South Carolina 67, LSU 58
at Florida, Saturday, Jan. 16
vs. Auburn, Wednesday, Jan. 20
vs. Ole Miss, Saturday, Jan. 23
at Alabama, Wednesday, Jan. 27.
IN FOCUS: South Carolina is depleted up front with the loss of F Dominique Archie and dismissal of F Mike Holmes.
--F Storm Warren led the Tigers with 19 points against South Carolina, but he managed only four in the second half.
--PG Chris Bass struggled to guard South Carolina's Devan Downey (29 points) and committed five turnovers.
--G Bo Spencer scored 14 against South Carolina, but he was 1-of-6 from 3-point range with several open misses and was 5-of-14 from the field.
--F Tasmin Mitchell scored 13 points with nine rebounds against South Carolina.