The last time LSU met Tennessee, the game ended in a five-point victory for the visiting Volunteers. The promising sign for the home team, the Tigers were not playing their best ball but still managed to keep the game close until the end.
At that point, the Tigers were using the 2-3 zone as an answer here and there. Today, head coach Trent Johnson’s side can’t be found running anything else on the defensive end of the floor.
“We have played pretty good in the zone, and we will stick with that and try to make Tennessee beat us from the perimeter,” said LSU’s Bo Spencer.
For Tasmin Mitchell, the team’s performance since their Feb. 13 loss to Vanderbilt has been better each night out. The two conference victories on the year, a 65-54 win over Arkansas and a 50-48 win over Georgia, both came during the stretch.
“I think we are getting better each game, especially with the zone,” he said. “We are really active, and we play with a lot of urgency. Tennessee is a slashing, athletic team, so we are going to put them in the zone and try to outwork them. They would rather run than set up.
“Unless you are a great shooting team, the zone is tough.”
While LSU (11-19, 2-14 SEC) faces the biggest uphill battle among all the conference tournament teams, four wins in four days is a run that has been made by a bottom-feeder before.
Two years ago a Georgia squad that went 4-12 in the SEC regular season beat Ole Miss, Kentucky, Mississippi State and Arkansas to capture the conference title and reach the NCAA Tournament.
Hoping to repeat the Bulldogs miraculous run will be the Tigers.
“Georgia did it, and that has to be our mantra,” Mitchell said. “They didn’t do too well in the SEC, either. We are just going to get out there, have some fun and play hard.”
If the road weren’t steep enough, LSU will face Tennessee’s Brian Williams for the first time.
“The difference between with what we saw in Baton Rouge and what we're seeing now is the addition of Williams,” Johnson said. “Now they have the luxury of playing slow on the backcourt and also playing up tempo if they take him out.
“Their talent level has always been good,” he continued. “A lot has been said about the suspensions and the guys they didn't have, but the guys that remained were good players. Obviously, Bruce [Pearl] does a good job getting his players ready to play all the time.”
At Wednesday’s media conference, Tennessee forward Wayne Chism, who scored 20 points in the first meeting between the sides, said that the Volunteers wouldn’t get caught looking past the down-and-out Tigers.
“Playing at LSU was a close game,” he said. “In that game, we played very good defense against their team, and they did a great job of shooting the ball, but especially in that game. So this game we're coming out being very focused, and we can't come out like we did in that game.”
For J.P. Prince, the Tennessee approach, knowing that the Tigers will slow down the game by drawing out their possessions, is defense first.
“They do a great job of slowing the game down and getting the shots that they want to take,” Prince said. “They are well coached, and they play us well. I think it just comes down to our defense being the most important thing.”