LSU head coach Trent Johnson won’t deny that his team is badly in need of a win, something the Tigers have yet to grab neither on the road nor in Southeastern Conference play.
A far cry from last season’s SEC Championship team, this year’s LSU squad is built around one veteran (Tasmin Mitchell), a promising young forward (Storm Warren) and a point guard whose play has proven to be erratic (Bo Spencer).
When one of the three top scorers is having an off night, the chance at LSU notching a win is slim at best (see UCONN, Washington State and Utah).
There are the nights, however, where the big three are all on point – which has put LSU in the thick of a number of recent games.
Yet, the facts are that the Tigers have dropped six of their last seven contests – a number of which they led or trailed in a close game after 30 minutes only to be blown away down the stretch.
Not one to harp on the missteps, Johnson said that he sees improvement with his side each night out – which sooner than later should pay dividends for the struggling Tigers.
“Going back to Florida, I thought there were a lot of positives for 20-25 minutes,” he said. “There was a separation there where I think they went up 12-13 points [in the first half] and we went to a man defense and had Eddie [Ludwig], Aaron [Dotson], Garrett [Green] Bo and Tasmin, and from a man stand point I thought defensively we did a good job to get ourselves back in the game.
“There has been a constant improvement on our being able to handle and attack pressure,” he added. “We are getting better in those aspects. There are still a couple of places where we are breaking down, and maybe a lot of it contributing to our inability in a zone to react to the ball and have quickness to the ball is rebounding.”
Against an Auburn team that is built behind strong guard play; Wednesday night could be LSU’s shot at dominating the boards – a statistical category that the opposition has often won against the Tigers this season.
“[Auburn] is a team where we are predominately going to have to go man and push Tasmin back down to the four, because Hargrove is a undersized 4-3 who shoots; then basically try to handle their pressure and keep things in the half court,” Johnson said. “Auburn is coming off a tough loss to obviously one of the best teams in the country, Kentucky. Their speed and their explosiveness are impressive.”
Tay Waller and DeWayne Reed are two names that stood out to Johnson thanks to the meetings they had with LSU in the past. Through 18 games, both senior guards are averaging over 10 points a night.
“They really spread the floor well and attack you four-on-one,” he said. “Waller and Reed caused us a lot of problems here and there last year, so obviously the most important thing for us is being able to limit their transition opportunities; close out on the threes, which is going be hard to do because of their speed and overall quickness.”
Through Alabama, South Carolina and Florida, LSU saw press defense each night out. Johnson said that while the press should come out once more on Wednesday, the execution would be unlike anything the Tigers have seen thus far.
“It's more of a run and jump out of a man, and they'll be on the half court and do anything they can out of a man to speed you up,” he said. “The thing is when you look at the shooting percentages from [three-point range], they are down; but when you look at them on tape you see these guys are shooting with a high level of confidence and continue to be aggressive, which concerns me.
“You look at us and our shooting percentages, which are extremely low, and our guys aren't shooting the basketball with a level of confidence,” he added. “That's a scary thing when you start talking about a team like Auburn.”
The two sides will tip off at 7 p.m. at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.