Bigby-Williams, Smart Shine in Tweaked Roles vs Alabama
Digital Media Reporter
A year ago, Will Wade looked down to the end of his bench and saw a solution he could not use to a problem he could not otherwise solve.
Twice in his first season as LSU’s head coach, Wade took on a much bigger Alabama squad, and twice his team lost, getting outrebounded 72-57 and outscored in the paint 54-36.
Had he been able to use Kavell Bigby-Williams – his 6-foot-11 transfer from Oregon sitting out the season to comply with NCAA transfer regulations – that story might’ve been different.
It might’ve unfolded much like Tuesday night’s 88-79 win over the Tide did a year later.
“I thought Kavell was a huge difference maker in the game,” Wade said. “Five blocks, the rebounds, the double-double. It was the difference from last year to this year – just having him.”
Starting for the sixth time this season, Bigby-Williams patrolled the paint like a pro against the Tide, tallying 14 points, 13 rebounds, and 5 blocks in 24 minutes.
It was quite the turnaround from just a game ago, when Bigby-Williams, against a much smaller UL-Monroe team, played just seven scoreless minutes, with just a rebound to show for his night.
Seven minutes or 24 – it matters not to Bigby-Williams.
“I realize it is not really about the minutes you play, it is about how productive you are in the minutes you play,” he said. “I just have to go out there and be productive. The minutes could increase or decrease and I will still give the same effort.”
The first three minutes of the second half might’ve been Bigby-Williams’ best. He scored six points, grabbed four rebounds, and blocked a shot as LSU extended its halftime lead from 15 to 19, and he left the floor to a standing ovation.
His final points were vital, too. After the Tide trimmed the LSU lead to just four with under two minutes to play, it was Bigby-Williams’ putback dunk that extended the advantage back to six.
“I said in the offseason, if we’d have had him in the offseason, we’d have probably won three or four more games,” Wade said. “He was a huge difference maker tonight. We don’t win without him.”
Wade doesn’t know how long it’s been. Six or seven years. Maybe longer.
So before Tuesday’s game, he talked with Ja’vonte Smart one-on-one about coming off the bench.
Prior to the start of SEC play, Smart had started all 13 games as a Tiger, and the three-time Louisiana Mr. Basketball winner spent very little time on the pine at Scotlandville High School in Baton Rouge as a blue-chip prep.
So Wade knew an adjustment would be necessary.
“I talked to him today in shoot around and said, ‘I know this is probably the first time you’ve come off the bench in a long time, probably six or seven years. Probably longer than that,’” Wade said. “I told him, ‘Just sit with Coach (Bill) Armstrong, get in the flow of the game.’ I thought when he came in, he saw things better and was ready to go. He had a little more pop to him.”
That pop produced 15 points and 5 assists in 29 minutes, including a 3-of-5 effort from beyond the arc to pace LSU’s 10-of-15 night shooting the 3.
.@LSUbasketball was 10-of-15 from 3-point range vs. Alabama, making 66.7%+ on 10+ attempts for the 4th time in school history. Last: 11/28/2010 vs. South Alabama (12 of 17) #LSU https://t.co/30WNxzCRtC— Todd Politz (@tpolitz) January 9, 2019
Smart was at his best to close the first half, when he scored or assisted on the Tigers’ final 19 points, part of a 19-7 run that put LSU ahead 43-28 at the break.
“I thought he was great,” Wade said. “Having that big lineup at the end of the first half, we guarded them really well with Ja’vonte, Skylar, the three bigger guys. We guarded them really well and turned our defense into offense…I thought he played maybe his best game of the season.”
Wade wasn’t the only in Smart’s ear. Tremont Waters, who finished with 19 points and 7 assists and watched from the bench with two fouls during the first half run, stayed in communication with his freshman sidekick all week.
“Ja’vonte did not have a great game in the last game, he did not feel like,” Waters said. “I just reached out and told him to stay true. I feel like we have just come together and the way he is playing, he has confidence and is listening.”
With another trademark performance, Waters – who shot 6-of-9 from the floor and hit both three-pointers he took – continued his excellent play in both recent games and in conference contests.
In LSU’s last four games, Waters is averaging 17 points, 7 assists, and just 3 turnovers per game on 46 percent shooting from the field, 43 percent shooting from deep, and 73 percent shooting from the line.
Tremont Waters with some flair pic.twitter.com/K4EQ6Uw4pL— LSU Basketball (@LSUBasketball) January 9, 2019
Dating back to last season, he’s averaging 22.0 points, 6.1 assists, and just 2.3 turnovers per game on 48/45/75 shooting.
No assist was better than the one he tossed Darius Days late in the second half from a seated position. After a scramble, Waters found the ball, sat up, and threw what Alabama head coach called a “left handed curveball” through the Tide defense to find Days for the slam.
“He’s an elite player,” Wade said. “That was just vision and being able to see things, being able to make things happen. Overall, he played a lot better and a lot more confidently.”
Last year, Alabama doubled Waters on ball screens and tried to push him out of spots. This season, the game plan was the same, but Waters was not.
“His body has changed,” Johnson said. “It looks like he is a little stronger this year. He is not getting knocked off his spot as much this year, and his balance is better.”
“They had pretty much the same game plan this year,” Wade added, “but it helps when you have a guy like Ja’vonte, another guy who can bring the ball up and make plays. Tre just attacked more and was more confident. He was ready to go. He was locked in the last two or three days.”