If you’re into sports analogies, LSU head coach Trent Johnson likens the steps - and missteps - from his team to the back-and-forth punches of a prizefight.
“They have to look at it like that,” Johnson said. “And they have to continue to fight through.”
With less than a dozen games left on the schedule, the defending SEC champions – now 9-10 - have yet to come up with a conference win (0-5).
Though the first wave of SEC losses saw the Tigers stick close with the opposition before fading away after the second half, their more recent outings – home contests against Auburn and Ole Miss – saw the game play close for more than 30 minutes before LSU fell silent down the stretch. Against the Tigers, it was a 12-4 run over the final three minutes. For the Rebels, it was a 17-7 run.
Monday, Johnson said that in the days leading up to Alabama the central theme of practice would revolve around being prepared mentally for 40 minutes – or more – of high-level basketball each night out.
“We need a concentration level from start to finish,” he said. “We need consistent effort; shot selection, being slow and strong, rebounding and blocking out, getting to loose balls, concentrating and catching with two hands and setting good screens.
“We’re getting to a point where we are getting better against good teams, but there are things that are correctable.”
Numbers wise, the 0-5 SEC record does a good job of painting the picture of the Tigers’ struggles on offense this season.
The team’s average of 65.5 points per game, 42-percent shooting from the field, 28-percent shooting from behind the arc and minus-1 scoring margin are all good for worst in the conference.
Tasmin Mitchell (17.9), Bo Spencer (15.3) and Storm Warren (13.5) remain the lone three Tigers to average more than five points a game.
“We are looking for other guys to step up, but so far that hasn’t been something that has happened for this team,” Spencer said. “We stay on each other to remain confident and keep playing the game, but it’s tough, especially for the younger guys, because we are playing against great competition that knows how to attack your weaknesses.”
Coming off a 62-57 home win over No. 23 Mississippi State, Alabama is back in Tuscaloosa against the Tigers Wednesday night for the final contest in a three-game home stand.
In their Jan. 9th meeting – the conference opener for both sides – Alabama rolled over LSU with a 66-49 win. Behind 14 points from JaMychal Green, 13 from Senario Hillman and 12 from Mikhail Torrance, the Crimson Tide led by double digits early and by as much as 26 points in the second half.
Losers of eight of their last nine outings, including three-straight on the road, the Tigers face a tall mountain to climb in order to get back on the winning road. Without NCAA Tournament hopes, many teams would pack camp and head home, but the Tigers – much to the expectations of Johnson – have stayed the course.
“There were guys in the locker room after the [Ole Miss] game where if they didn’t care, they wouldn’t have been frustrated,” Johnson said. “It was also the most frustrated they had seen me, but they understand that only lasts so long.”