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No. 19 Tigers Set to Face No. 5 Kentucky at Rupp

Kent Lowe (@LSUkent)
Kent Lowe (@LSUkent)
Communications Sr. Associate

LEXINGTON, Kentucky – The LSU Tigers, after two wins last week that moved them up in the national polls, faces its toughest road test to date against No. 5 Kentucky Tuesday night at Rupp Arena.

LSU comes in to the game ranked No. 19 in the AP media poll and No. 21 in the Amway coaches’ poll, after a 98-88 overtime win at Mississippi State and an 83-78 win in Baton Rouge on Saturday against Mississippi State.

The Tigers are 19-4 on the year and 9-1 in the Southeastern Conference. LSU has now won more games than it did a year ago (18) and has increased its league win total by one to date from last year.

Kentucky comes in 20-3 overall and also 9-1 in the SEC, tied for second with LSU, one game behind No. 1 Tennessee. The Wildcats have won 10 straight games and comes into the game off a 71-67 win at Mississippi State.

The game will be televised on ESPN at 6 p.m. CT with Karl Ravech, Dick Vitale and Laura Rutledge on the call. The Voice of the Tigers, Chris Blair, and former LSU head coach John Brady will have the call on the affiliates of the LSU Sports Radio Network (Eagle 98.1 FM in Baton Rouge).

Next Home Game: vs. Florida (Wed., Feb. 20, 6 p.m. CT) | Tickets

LSU has won five times in 49 trips to face the Wildcats in Lexington, with the most recent Tigers win coming in 2009 when LSU clinched the SEC regular-season title. Current LSU Director of Student-Athlete Development Tasmin Mitchell hit the winning bucket in the victory.

In games last week, the Tigers rallied twice for wins, coming from 10 down in the second half at State and then from 16 down in the first half against Auburn. LSU has been behind by double digits in four of the past five league games but has found a way to win three of them – Missouri, Mississippi State and Auburn. The Tigers were down 18 in the game against Arkansas at home and rallied to take the lead, but couldn’t hold the advantage in the final minute.

Against Auburn, LSU was able to offset the three-point shooting of Auburn (16 makes) with strong play inside on the board, posting a 36-18 advantage in points in the paint, including 29-1 in second chance points. The Tigers also had a 31-14 advantage in points off turnovers.

Junior Skylar Mays led LSU with 20 points in the game, while Tremont Waters had 19 points and 10 assists and Naz Reid had 13 points and 11 boards. Kavell Bigby-Williams also contributed to a game with 48 total rebounds for LSU, including 23 offensive rebounds, pulled down 10 of his own.

Waters and Reid were honored for their efforts against Mississippi State and Auburn on Monday by the Southeastern Conference. Waters was named the SEC Player of the Week and Reid the SEC Freshman of the Week.

This is the first of two road games this week for LSU as they will travel to Athens on Saturday at face the University of Georgia.

Coach Will Wade met with the media prior to the team leaving for Lexington and here are some of his comments:

Opening statement…
“Congrats to Tremont (Waters) and Naz (Reid) (on being named SEC Player and Freshman of the week, respectively). It is well deserved, well earned. They are both huge reasons we were able to win two big games last week.

“Moving on to Kentucky. This is obviously a different animal than we’ve been playing. Their size, their length, their athleticism, how big they are down low, the way they defensive rebound the ball. (Ashton) Hagans at point guard has helped them tremendously since they’ve made that change. He’s just an absolute pest defensively and does a great job blowing up your offense, blowing up handoffs, blowing up ball screens. He does a phenomenal job with that. He gets in the paint on offense and distributes it to (Tyler) Herro, (Keldon) Johnson and if you help up, he drops it off to the bigs who just dunk it. It will be a big defensive test for us. Obviously it’s a very, very tough environment against the best program in our league and one of the best teams in our league.”

On not letting any games get too big…
“The bigger the game, the narrower the focus. You have to lock in on what you do. Lock in on doing your job, completely doing your job as well as you can do it. Block out all the external stuff. You’ve got to keep everything as routine oriented as you can and as narrow of lens as you can.”

On being able to pick up wins at Mississippi State and against Auburn at home last week…
“It’s good. We needed those. That was a huge win at State and then beating Auburn, Auburn’s a tough matchup for us. It wasn’t like we caught Auburn sleeping. They played really well and were ready to go. They hit a bunch of threes. I thought it was a good week for us. The more you have a big week, bigger weeks are ahead. That’s what you want to do. You’ve got to keep building. We won two big games last week, but nobody cares about that. We’ve got a big game tomorrow and the next one is a big game after that.”

On matching up against Kentucky head coach John Calipari…
“They’re the best program in the league. He’s a phenomenal coach. He’s won a national championship. He does a great job with those guys – how hard they play, how well they are defensively. To get his teams with the young guys to play like they do is extremely, extremely impressive. Me, kind of going through it for the first time this year, it gives you more of an appreciation for – he doesn’t get nearly enough credit for what a good coach he is. He is a phenomenal basketball coach. What they do on offense – they play to their strengths, they get their guys space and let them move and let them make plays. The way he has them connected defensively and how hard they play defensively and how they just share the court defensively – I think they’re giving up 55 points a game for the last five or six games, and it’s even less than that at home. What he does with his clubs to get them to be connected and guard like that is extremely, extremely impressive. I have a new found appreciation for him. I’ve always thought he’s a great coach and does a great job, but I have a new found appreciation for that.”

On what the most difficult part is about coaching a young team like Calipari does so often…
“Getting them all on the same page. We’re all on the same page now, but sometimes you’d like to be a little bit quicker with that. Just getting them connected. The way they (Kentucky) run their offense, the way they run their defense, you would have no idea that (Ashton) Hagans is a freshman point guard out there, (Keldon) Johnson’s a freshman, and (Tyler) Herro’s a freshman. They have Reid Travis, a fifth-year senior. They have PJ Washington who’s a sophomore. Washington is playing as well as anybody in the league right now. They bring EJ Montgomery off the bench. They bring (Nick) Richards off the bench who started for them last year. Five, (Immanuel) quickly, they bring him off the bench. He (Coach Calipari) just fits the pieces so nicely together and his scheme is very friendly to what they’re doing.”

On how he approaches halftime…
“We watch film at half. We watch their team’s made shots and how they score and what they were doing to score. Obviously we make some offensive and defensive adjustments. I try to keep it very simple. I don’t want to make more than three adjustments on each end. We take a lot of information in and try to boil it down to or three things that maybe they’re doing that we weren’t expecting that we need to adjust. I’m very weary. I don’t like to do stuff in games that you haven’t practiced. Some coaches will just throw stuff out there that they haven’t worked on. We have a couple plays I want to run against Kentucky. I’ll draw them up out of a timeout, but we’ll walk through them tonight. I will at least walk through it with the guys and say we may use this and we may not, but at least we’ll walk through it before we draw it up. At halftime I try to see what they’re doing that’s going against our scouting and try to make any of those big picture adjustments then. The smaller stuff we can adjust during the game.”

On how the team responds to halftime adjustments…
“A lot of times it comes at a good time when they’re on a good run and we just need to recalibrate and slow things down. The three Tre (Tremont Waters), it was a huge difference mentally going down one score (against Auburn) compared to going down six. I thought that was a big three that Tre hit before the half. For whatever reason we play decent coming out of halftime.”

On if playing sloppy down the stretch is a concern…
“It’s a concern, but we’ll get that corrected. We talked about it and watched film about it. We shouldn’t make some of the mistakes we made when we have timeouts. We had two timeouts and got a five count coming out of the timeout which is not something that you want. Our spacing was a little bit off, but we’ll get that corrected.”

On not wanting to have to come from behind double-digits at Kentucky…
“We’re not going to get as many possessions. We’re going to have to shoot it better. We’re not going to be able to go grab 20 offensive rebounds against Kentucky. We’re going to need to be able to make some shots. We need to keep it within a working margin. We’re not going to be able to get down 16 points, 14 points like (we have recently). We’re not going to be able to get down all of that and just chip our way back against a team like Kentucky. We’ve got to keep it within a working margin.”

On the impact of Tremont Waters playing against bigger guards…
“Well it’s different but Tremont has answered the call as the game before he played (Lamar) Peters who is a really good point guard and (Ashton) Hagans is excellent and maybe as good as there is in our league. That is part of why you come to the SEC so you can play against excellent players. You have Tre’ (Waters) going against Hagans. You also have Naz (Reid) going against P.J Washington and Kavell (Bigby-Williams) against Reid Travis. They are both fifth-year seniors who transferred from the PAC-12 so we have big match-ups all over the board and that is why come to play here and play at a high level.”

On Naz Reid’s progression throughout the season…
“He has been great. It takes time to adjust. You guys are all seeing that he is a talented guy and he plays so hard and he wants to win so bad. He does so much for our team both offensively and defensively. He covers up a lot of mistakes as I can show you some clips during the Auburn game where he is stunting off a shooter to give us time to recover. He has such a high basketball IQ. He does not miss a rep in practice as I have to tell him to get off so that some of our other guys can get their work in. His conditioning has built up through that. As I said, he has a great basketball mind, is a hard worker and he is playing with great poise and patience right now.”

On LSU’s size advantage upfront against Kentucky…
“I do not know about that. They have Nick Richards and (EJ) Montgomery who are just two huge bodies off the bench. Those guys are like Naz and Kavell so I do not think it matters who is starting or not because it is going to be a physical game inside the paint. They have four big bodies and we have four big guys of our own.”

On the importance of Naz Reid and Kavell Bigby-Williams
“We need them to play extremely well and there is no secret about that. We need those guys to play well and stay on the court.”

On how ready the team is to play in a game of this magnitude…
“We are going to have to play our best and play consistently throughout the whole 40 minutes of the game to be able to go in and compete. We have played other games on the road but this is a different weight class here. Playing in front of 23,000 fans is a different atmosphere. I’m pleased with what we have done so far but to win we are going to have to play a complete game. Now we do not have to play a perfect game, but we are definitely going to have to play one of our better games. We are going to have to stay connected because Kentucky is going to make shots and go on runs and Reid Travis is probably going to dunk it once or twice. We are going to have to stay tight and do what we do. Hopefully we will be able to hang in there and get to a six-minute game and we will play it out from there. We are going to have to be very good with the details as we are not going to be able to give up anything from the baseline out of bounds or sideline out of bounds. We are going to have to be really good with the game within the game. We did really well with those kinds of things against Auburn and we are going to have to do the same things at Kentucky to be able to give us a chance late in the game.”

On the style of play in recent games helping in this game…
“Kentucky is lethal in transition. They play a lot faster at home and they get out in transition more as they are so quick. When they get in the half-court, he (John Calipari) does a great job of making sure the right guys are getting the right shots at the right time so we are going to have to do a good job of getting back in transition which is something we did not do well against Auburn. Our transition defense left a lot to be desired. We are also going to have guard physical screening actions in the half-court which we have done at times this year against some of the teams in our league. We do think that we can win different styles of games and I think this game will be a little bit slower than what we are used to do but we are going to have be prepared to sit in there and grind it out in a tractor pull if that is what it takes.”

On what is said to stop an opposing team’s run…
“I do not like to use time-outs. However, last game was the second straight game that I used two time-outs in the first half. I hate using them because I would much rather have them later in the game where I can use them as a way of coaching a young team through the end of game situations that arise. It allows me to micro-manage the game at the end. But when you have to burn them, you have to burn them to stop the momentum and if Kentucky goes on a run, we are going to use as many as we need to try and hang in there as long as we can. But really, it is just a matter of calming the guys down and explaining how they are going on a run. And also, for us trying to explain how maybe we are not getting good possessions, not getting stops, not rotating through or truly whatever it may be. It could be a multitude of different things for us; so for us it is about seeing what we can do to get it corrected and then emphasize that we need a good possession after the time-out. We can then come back down, win the next possession and then volley back and forth with having good possessions. It really is just a matter of calming everyone down.”

On the confidence of the team right now…
“We tell the team all the time that you have to be careful so you do not think that you are a ‘gamer’ at practice and then the lights come on and everything is going to be okay. I think our guys certainly understand that tomorrow night is going to be different. We cannot go in there and do some of things that we have been letting happen in previous games such as letting Mississippi State go on a 17-0 run. We cannot get down by 16 points early like we did against Auburn if we are going to give ourselves a chance to win.”



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