Tigers On Road To Face Arkansas
Communications Sr. Associate
BATON ROUGE – Having won its opening Southeastern Conference home game, the LSU men’s basketball team hits the road for the first of two straight difficult contests beginning Saturday at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
The Tigers (11-3, 1-0) will face the Arkansas Razorbacks (10-4, 1-1) at 5 p.m. Saturday in the third game of four games televised by the SEC Network (Kevin Fitzgerald and Dane Bradshaw) and broadcast on the LSU Sports Radio Network affiliates with Chris Blair and former LSU head basketball coach John Brady (Eagle 98.1 FM in Baton Rouge; 92.7 FM in New Orleans).
LSU is one of four remaining unbeaten teams in the SEC after two playing dates with LSU at 1-0 and Ole Miss (Tuesday’s LSU opponent in Oxford), South Carolina and Tennessee at 2-0. The Tigers defeated Alabama, 88-79, in the school’s seventh straight SEC victory in the Maravich Center and the 16th consecutive overall win in the building, both dating back to last year.
Arkansas lost on Wednesday night in the late league game, 57-51, at Bud Walton after winning on the road in its league opener, 73-71 at Texas A&M one Saturday ago. Arkansas will be trying to avoid losing back-to-back home games for the first time since Coach Mike Anderson’s first season, eight years ago.
But the Razorbacks have also been good in Saturday home games, posting a 25-5 record in SEC home games under Coach Anderson, including a streak of nine consecutive wins.
Speaking of nine, that’s the road losing streak the Tigers will be looking to stop at Fayetteville on Saturday. Ironically, LSU’s last road win came on Jan. 10, 2018 as the Tigers defeated Arkansas, 75-54. At that time it was a third straight road win for Coach Wade and the Tigers in his first season at the LSU helm.
LSU and Arkansas have two of the youngest teams in the SEC in terms of experience according to Kenpom.com. LSU is 330 in Division I in experience and Arkansas is slightly younger ranked 340 out of 353 teams.
In the Alabama game, the Tigers used a strong first half to put them in position to get the SEC win over Alabama, using a 19-7 run over the final 5:50 of the half to go from 24-21 up to a 43-28 halftime margin. LSU freshman Ja'vonte Smart either had the assist or scored in all 19 points of the run with four assists and eight points.
Tremont Waters led the Tigers with 19 points and seven assists, while Smart off the bench had 15 points and five assists. Darius Days had 14 points as did Kavell Bigby-Williams (also a season-high 13 rebounds).
The Razorbacks were led in the Florida game by Mason Jones who had a career high 30 of Arkansas’ 51 points in the loss. Daniel Gafford leads the Razorbacks in scoring at 16.4 points a game. Jones averages 14.3 and Isaiah Joe comes in at 14.8 a contest.
Arkansas leads the overall series, 35-30 and 19-7 in Fayetteville, but the Tigers have won 8-of-the-last-12 meetings.
Coach Wade met with the media late Thursday afternoon and here are some of his comments:
“Obviously going to one of the toughest places to go in the league, Arkansas. They’re coming off a tough loss against Florida last night. They played well, especially down the stretch in the last six minutes. They did a great job pressing and causing turnovers. We need to do a good job. Their point guard (Jalen Harris), a transfer from New Mexico, ninth in the country in assist rate. Doesn’t turn the ball over. Turns the ball over about one time per game. They have two shooters in (Isaiah) Joe and (Mason) Jones, who is Matt Jones’ brother from Duke. Two really, really good shooters. Obviously they have a lottery pick in Daniel Gafford. Number two (Adrio Bailey) is from Louisiana. He’s a really good player for him. They have good players, a good scheme. Always tough to play. We’ll have to handle the ball, handle the pressure. We’ll see how we react.”
On going into a hostile environment to play…
“They’ll be ready. The question is whether we’ll be ready, but they’ll be ready. It’s one of the top atmosphere in the league. They get to making threes and they star calling the hogs, they get going in there. They don’t build on-campus arenas as big as Bud Walton anymore. When it was built in the 90’s they built so big. Those weekend games are tough up there. It will be a hostile environment. It’s the first time we’ve gone on the road with this group in SEC play. It’s an opportunity. We’re going to have to be a lot more connected than our last away game (at Houston). We’re going to have to play with a lot more attention to detail with an understanding that everything matters when you play on the road when you play in that type of environment. We have to compete for a full 40 minutes. Not 30 minutes, 35 minutes, it’s got to be a full 40 minutes.”
On last year’s performance at Arkansas…
“They have a totally different team. We have a totally different team. They have Gafford, a lottery pick, so we have to prepare for those guys. Alabama beat us twice last year and that didn’t have anything to do with Tuesday night. There’s very little carry over. Its two different teams. There will be very few players for them who played against us last year. Their top nine guys, they’ll have two guys that played against us last year. Our top eight guys, I think we’ll have two guys that played against them.”
On how prepared Kavell Bigby-Williams is coming off a big performance on Tuesday…
“We’ll see. We have to put together back-to-back good games. Obviously he played very well against Alabama. We need him to play well against Arkansas in a tough matchup with Gafford. We need him to come through and play well back-to-back. He needs to continue to prepare well, focus on the little things, focus on the details, watch film, do the extra preparation that he’s been doing that’s given him the opportunity to have the success that he’s had.”
On his thoughts following the Alabama win…
“You have to hold your home court. My expectations are a little different. I expect to beat Alabama at home. I won’t slap myself on the back and slap the team on the back just because we beat Alabama at home, I mean, that’s the expectation here. I understand what we have in front of us. This is going to be a brutally tough home game and I’ve got to get through to our guys how important this is and how tough of a game this will be in this environment and the way that they play. It’s a big time challenge for us. They run a motion offense, very similar to what Louisiana-Monroe runs, except they have Gafford down there who they can throw it to and score at any time. They have really, really good shooters around him with Joe and Jones. They have a kid, zero (Desi Sillis), off the bench who can make them so it’s a different game, different matchup and I’m just on edge to make sure we’re as prepared as we can be. I’m worried about us reacting in this environment. We kind of came unglued at Houston and it will be a similar type of environment, but with a lot more people. We’ve got to be able to hold together here.
“We’ve got to certainly make sure that our guys are grounded in reality. This is where we are. This is what is expected. We have to move forward. Life on the road in the SEC, last year those road games we lost in the SEC, maybe South Carolina was an even match. We lost on the road at Auburn who was light years better than us. Tennessee, it wasn’t like we were just dropping games to bad teams. We lost to teams who were just better than us, frankly. Life on the road in the league. Is very, very difficult. Some of the teams who were in our weight-class last year – Georgia, South Carolina, Vanderbilt – we also lost on the road to those guys. We’ve got to shore things up and play with much sharper edge on the road and understand what it takes to overrun somebody in their own gym. I don’t know if we’re to that point yet.”
On what is needed to win at Arkansas…
“Avoid turnovers, that is something they are good at creating and something we are very good at giving other teams. We turned it over 16 times and beat Alabama. If we turn it over 16 times, we are not winning on Saturday, you can write that in your game story, we are not winning on Saturday with 16 turnovers. We have to be able to value the ball and not toss it around the gym against their pressure. If we do that and get a shot on the basket, I think we will give ourselves a chance to win. We have to avoid turnovers and guard the three-point line. Talk about the building going crazy, when they are creating turnovers and running out for threes and hitting threes, the building goes a little wild, so we have to make sure we can control those areas.”
On if Ja'vonte needs to start games strong…
“No, I think he can self-correct a little bit. I like it when he starts strong and does not have to self-correct, that is obviously the best. I think he can self-correct, we do not want to test that out on Saturday. I certainly think he has it in him.”
On if there has been a different level of focus at practice…
“I wish. I think our group is still feeling itself out. I wish I could say ‘yeah’ and sit up here and say it is all roses, but we are just kind of chugging along here. Hopefully what we have been doing will be good enough. I think we have to be able to sustain our focus for longer. We stay focus for 15, 20, 25 minutes in practice and then we lose it a little bit and that is the way we are in a game and all of that translates. I wish we could stay focused longer, I do not think it is a lack of focus as much of it is as being able to stay focused. If we do not play 40 minute games, this league is unbearable.”
On if Arkansas will likely play more zone in the game…
“Yeah, I would think so. Mike Anderson is not a dummy now, he knows what he is doing. He has won a lot of games between UAB, Missouri and Arkansas. He likes playing that zone, it is a good matchup zone. We certainly spent some time today working on it and will spend some time tomorrow working on it and in shoot around. I think we will be fine, but I would expect us to see more zone.”
On what makes Jalen Harris a great point guard for Arkansas…
“He does not turn it over. He is a bigger guard, uses his body, gets into you, is physical, he is able to protect the ball and gets the ball to where it needs to be. They are very clean with the ball, they do not fumble the ball. They run a motion and the ball does not stick, the ball moves and it all starts with the point guard.”
On keeping the team from being comfortable…
“I do not think they are very comfortable after (Thursday). I do not like comfort, you cannot get better with comfort. If you are not stretching yourself, you are not going to get any better. We need people uncomfortable, so we have to constantly make sure we have people uncomfortable. When you are comfortable, you are not getting better, you are just staying the same … What is good enough today is not good enough tomorrow. I do not like it when people feel comfortable, so we are working to make sure that is not the case.”