A Week Off, But Still Not 100 Percent
The Tigers break between Vanderbilt and Mississippi State certainly helped rehab the bodies that have been worn down over the Southeastern Conference stretch, but the Tigers still aren’t completely healthy.
Bo Spencer, who has played injured throughout most of the latter half of the season, is nearing his way back to full strength. Storm Warren, who has battled hamstring problems since after the Kentucky loss, also used the most of his time off.
“Bo practiced [Wednesday] and he looked probably about 70 percent,” said LSU head coach Trent Johnson. “I think if he continues to make progress he will play Saturday.
“Storm really benefitted from the two days off,” he added. “He looked fresh and looked like he had his bounce back in terms of his legs and his explosiveness.”
Unfortunately, freshman guard Aaron Dotson’s status is headed in the opposite direction.
“Aaron has been having a hard time breathing, so we had some people look at him and he has chest inflammation of the lungs, so he did not practice [Wednesday] and we will hold him out [Thursday],” Johnson said. “Aaron’s is a concern to me, because anytime you have some chest pains, that needs to be dealt with delicately.”
Keeping it Close
The Tigers played arguably their most complete game of the season in their 77-69 loss at Vanderbilt last Saturday, a performance that Johnson said left him optimistic about the team’s energy through the final five games.
LSU shot 43.9 percent from the floor and outrebounded the Commodores 31-29 - a surprise given Warren spent most of the game on the bench with foul troubles.
“I was encouraged by the play from our whole team from the standpoint of going into Vanderbilt and competing at a high level,” he said. “Dennis [Harris], for the first time since he has been in college, pushed himself. He pushed himself through a four or five minute time period there where he was exhausted, and then there was a TV timeout and he was breathing heavy, and I told him that is what it feels like.
“He was able to make some plays in that environment and obviously Garrett [Greene] made some plays and was physical and he played through some fatigue,” he added. “I think Garrett had some great passes and Tasmin [Mitchell] did a good job of making him better because he scored not in traffic. There wasn’t any contact around, but on the defensive side he was physical and that is what I was impressed with.”
This is the second meeting on the season between Mississippi State and LSU, the first a Jan. 30 contest in Starkville that the Bulldogs took by 16 points.
Back against Rick Stansbury’s club in the PMAC, Johnson said to expect much of the same in terms of LSU’s approach to the afternoon.
“Offensively it is going to be the same thing from us,” he said. “I don’t expect them to do anything differently than they did last time. Guys like Storm Warren, Eddie Ludwig, and Aaron Dotson have to prove they can knock down an open shot consistently. We certainly had our share of those up in Starkville.
“Basically what we did yesterday was go back and look at the defensive breakdown,” he added. “There were periods in that game where I thought we were pretty good and then there were periods where we weren’t very good, but a lot of it had to do with Jarvis Varnado being a good player and not us being out of position. I think they feel good about knowing that if we play like we are capable of from an intensity standpoint, we have a chance to win.”
Unimpressive From the Floor
The Tigers are the worst offensive scoring team in the SEC, no surprise given the lack of playmakers the current roster sports. Yet perhaps a case in point of the Tigers’ struggles this season, the team has yet to shoot over 50 percent from the floor during a conference game, a statistic Johnson admitted was a bit surprising.
“Especially considering as much as the coaching staff and I watch tape and show tape to the kids and they see how many guys are left open,” Johnson said. “There is an old adage in basketball that the hardest shot is shooting the uncontested shot over and over again. We have had our share of open looks and a lot of it has to do with guys being tentative and not being confident, but we are going to continue to do the same things we have done. We are going to continue to tell them to be aggressive.”
With home dates against Mississippi State, Arkansas and Georgia and road contests at Auburn and Ole Miss left on the schedule, the message from Johnson to his 0-11 conference club remains consistent with the passing weeks.
“We are going to have to rebound the ball and limit their transition opportunities, those are the first two things,” he said. “We have to not get caught up in anything else other than us trying to execute and get better to build off of what happened at Vanderbilt.
“I think for this group, it is the end of the year and we have five games to go before the SEC tournament, and we are all aware of what we have to do and need to do,” he added. “We are just all about trying to get better.”