Tigers Travel to Auburn to Face First-Place SEC Team
Communications Sr. Associate
BATON ROUGE – The LSU men’s basketball team was scheduled to leave Friday afternoon for what may be its toughest road trip to date when the Tigers travel to No. 19 Auburn and the sold-out Auburn Arena for a battle Saturday with the Southeastern Conference’s No. 1 team.
The game is set for 5 p.m. CT and is the first of two SEC contests on the SEC Network involving the four teams not playing in the SEC/Big 12. The game will also be broadcast on the affiliates of the LSU Sports Radio Network (Eagle 98.1 FM in Baton Rouge) with Chris Blair and John Brady.
LSU is 12-7 overall and 3-4 in SEC play after it completed a sweep of Texas A&M on Tuesday with a 77-65 decision at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. Auburn was on the road at Missouri and won, 91-73, to take a half-game lead in the SEC at 6-1 and 18-2 overall.
LSU is 3-1 on the road this season, but one Saturday ago did not have much success as Vanderbilt scored a 77-71 win at Memorial Gym in Nashville. Auburn’s only league loss was at Alabama and the Auburn Tigers are undefeated at the Auburn Arena with a 10-0 record, including three league wins.
Tremont Waters, who almost had a unique triple double in the A&M win with 15 points, nine assists and eight steals, leads the team in scoring average overall (15,7 ppg) and is tied for the lead league in assists (6,0 apg) and in the league lead in steals (2.4 spg).
Senior forward Duop Reath has shown his ability in the last two games, following up a career high 31-point and season high 13 rebound game at Vanderbilt with a 21-point contest versus A&M. Reath leads the team in scoring in SEC games at 17.1 points per game. He also is second in the league overall (57.5%) and in conference play (53.8%) in field goal percentage.
Auburn, coached by Bruce Pearl in his fourth year, is led by Bryce Brown at 16.4 points per game with Mustapha Heron at 14.9 points with Jared Harper averaging 12.9 points and over five assists a game. Harper had 21 points, six assists and no turnovers in the Mizzou win on Wednesday.
The Tigers of LSU will be on the road again on Wednesday, traveling to Knoxville to meet the University of Tennessee at Thompson-Boling Arena. That game is set for 5:30 p.m. CT. LSU’s next home game in the Maravich Center will be Saturday, Feb. 3 at 2:30 p.m. against the University of Arkansas.
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Coach Will Wade met with the media on Thursday afternoon and here are some of his comments:
Opening statement …
“We are getting ready for Auburn, a great team. Obviously, they are No. 1 in the SEC. Their home court is phenomenal. On TV it looks like they have one of, if not the best, home court advantages in the league. They are playing with a ton of confidence. Bryce Brown is shooting it great. (Anfernee) McLemore is blocking shots. (Jared) Harper is playing really well, played tremendously last night. They have a lot of weapons. They are a very good team. It will be our biggest road challenge yet.”
On what makes Auburn effective offensively …
“They set a bunch of ball screens. When they do miss, they are the best offensive rebounding team in our league. They are just relentless driving the ball. Anytime you have an offense where you have five guys that you can put out there that can shoot free throws well—I think all five of their starters shoot over 77 percent and that’s the lowest of their five starters. When you can offensive rebound the ball and shoot the ball well from three, that’s an ingredient for just a phenomenal offense, which they have. They spread you and just cut you. You’re in some tight spots having to guard them because if you spread with them, they are just going to drive right by you and put you in rotation. If you pack it in, you’re just relying on them missing threes, which they’re shooting 38 percent as a team in the league.”
On Randy Onwuasor staying in the starting lineup …
“(Randy Onwuasor) can guard. That’s one of the reasons we got off to a good start. (Texas A&M) didn’t score before the first media timeout because we had Randy in there. He can guard, got us off to a 6-0 start. He had a good finish on that dunk. He doesn’t get into foul trouble. He picked up two fouls. If he doesn’t get into foul trouble, he’s on his way to a really good game. I have a lot of confidence in him. I thought he did a good job on (DJ) Hogg starting out. We are going to certainly use him in that way. He and Daryl (Edwards) are our two best perimeter defenders.”
On being the bigger team against Auburn size-wise …
“I didn’t help us a whole lot at Vanderbilt. I understand that, but I’m saying we were bigger than Vanderbilt and it didn’t help us a ton there. If Vanderbilt had a couple of guys who could shoot and Auburn has a lot more than a couple who can shoot, I’m not sure us being bigger has… If you’re asking, we have been the smaller team in a lot of other games and that was a little bit of a disadvantage. I don’t think we have any advantage because we are bigger than them. They are so quick to the ball. Their 6-foot-7 kid (Anfernee McLemore), he plays like he’s 6-foot-11. He leads the SEC in blocked shots. I think they are seventh in the country, seventh in the NCAA in blocked shots, Auburn is. I think they’ve been doing it against bigger teams all year long. It’s not like we are the biggest team they have played all year. It’s not like we are going to walk in there with that much more size than them. I don’t think we are going to have the same advantage being bigger that maybe some of teams have had on us being bigger, if that’s what you’re asking. That’s a strong possibility. It’s going to be hard to play our traditional (Aaron) Epps and Duop (Reath) against them the whole time. That’s going to be very difficult. It’s going to put us in some very tough spots defensively.”
On Auburn’s home court advantage …
“We just need to play well. We need to prepare well today, prepare well tomorrow and play really well in a hostile environment and get it to the last couple of minutes of the game where we have a chance and see if we can make some plays. I don’t think many people are going to win there if anybody in the league. I don’t think they’ve lost at home. They lost on the road to Alabama, and they lost to Temple on a neutral court, I believe. I don’t think they’ve lost at home, non-conference or in conference. Anybody who wins there, it would be a big win. Obviously, I don’t think anybody … I don’t see them losing much, if at all, at home.”
On Tremont Waters’ minutes against Texas A&M (36) …
“We did a little bit better of a job. We managed him around a couple of media timeouts. We got him rest at the under-eight media timeout during the first half. We try to steal a few more minutes rest without him not being on the court. I thought he prepared his body well before the game. He felt better going into the game. He’s who we have, so we are going to play him.”
On Randy Onwuasor’s defensive maturity …
“He’s got a little savviness to him. He’s an older, mature guy. He played for Tubby Smith at Texas Tech, who is one of the best defensive coaches in the country. He has a good understanding—(Brandon) Rachal has the same thing from high school. Rachal’s high school coach, Micha Coleman did a great job with him. He’s got the same advanced-level understanding of defense and defensive concepts in rotations, help and all of that sort of thing.”
On the defensive improvement since the Stephen F. Austin game …
“The reason our defense is better is because we aren’t giving up a bunch of threes. Our two-point numbers aren’t great. We still foul a little bit too much. We give up a lot of offensive rebounds. The whole basis of our defense being a little bit more efficient is we get a lot of steals and force some turnovers and we guard the three-point line pretty well. I know we are giving up some open threes, but we are giving up open threes to guys who it’s kind of by design. The problem is there’s nobody at Auburn who we can give up an open three to. That’s a little bit of an issue. I think our three-point, just not being able to give up, that’s the difference. We out-shot Texas A&M from the three-point line and won the game. When we are able to make threes and keep the other team from making threes, with the way that Duop is playing right now, we can keep it manageable trading baskets two for two. I think we are still 11th in the country in shots at the rim. Our foul rate still doesn’t match up, but we are 11th in the country in shots at the rim. If we can keep driving it in there and get threes, that’s where our defense has been better. We have been able to limit their threes and we have been able to make a few threes and we are pretty good in transition defense. We don’t give up a lot in transition.”
On Auburn’s growth under Bruce Pearl’s plan …
“They’ve got a complete program. This is (Bruce Pearl’s) fourth year, and he’s done a good job. He’s built it well through recruiting. Those are all his kids. His guys have gotten a lot better. He’s playing with the same group basically that he had last year. He added Desean Murray from Presbyterian, who is a phenomenal, phenomenal player. He’s out of Charlotte. I saw him a lot in high school. He played for a tremendous high school program under a really good high school coach. He’s added him to the mix, who played on a really good AAU program as well, with those other guys. They have a good group. Bryce Brown has really developed. He came in as a more lock-down defender, which he still is. Now, he’s just developed into more of a sniper, a sharp-shooter. He’s shooting 48 percent in the league from three. He’s done a good job developing his players, recruiting to their plan. This looks like, I’ve known Coach Pearl for a while, but this looks like the types of teams he had at Tennessee, a little bit undersized, flying around, making threes. He’s kind of using Brown like he used Chris Lofton a little bit. He has his type. It’s impossible to get the ball in-bounds against them on sideline out-of-bounds, baseline out-of-bounds, mixes in his presses. It’s a carbon copy of the teams he had at Tennessee, which he was so successful with.”