Will Wade has a penchant for saying his program is built on a solid foundation. He said it after the Tigers secured a 64-58 win Friday at Florida. He repeated it before LSU’s home game Saturday with Arkansas.
That’s not necessarily less true than after his Tigers blew an eight-point lead late Saturday and fell victim to a 17-2 run from the Razorbacks that the visitors converted into a 65-58 upset. But the loss made one thing pretty clear:
LSU’s solid foundation is built, to some extent, on marshy ground.
Tigers are built much like a Jenga tower. Pull out a piece, like projected starting shooting guard Adam Miller who was lost to a preseason knee injury, and the whole thing can wobble but not fall. Take out another, like point guard Xavier Pinson, and you’re left with a structure ready to rock.
LSU was able to survive in Florida without Pinson, a team the Tigers were able to surpass in talent and muscle in close competition. Against Arkansas, which entered without coach Eric Mussleman and struggling with a surprisingly shaky 1-3 record in the Southeastern Conference, the Tigers turned things around in a close game. Arkansas, despite its record and having to rely on assistant coach and Baton Rouge native Keith Smart (what a win for the former McKinley High star and hero of Indiana’s 1987 NCAA title triumph at the Superdome), is more talented than Florida. The Razorbacks weren’t so easily dismissed and they took advantage of an outdated and stagnant LSU offense.
Nero fiddled while Rome burned.
Either way, LSU’s offense hasn’t been a well-oiled machine for much of the season. The Tigers (15-2, 3-2) scored under 70 points on seven occasions. But LSU was able to rely on its fortress-like defense, holding back opposing teams like massive levees hold back the Mississippi River.
Pinson, one of LSU’s key offseason transfers along with Miller and forward Tari Eason, is LSU’s defensive catalyst. He may not be the Tigers’ most talented player, but as we’ve seen over the past two games, he may be LSU’s most valuable.
The Tigers need him badly this week, which seems a lot more treacherous without him. LSU travels to Alabama on Wednesday and then to Tennessee on Saturday before playing at home again Jan. 26 against Texas A&M.
Neither the Crimson Tide nor the Volunteers look like the Chicago Bulls of 1995-96 yet. No. 24-ranked Alabama is sure to drop the AP’s top 25 following Saturday’s 78-76 loss to Mississippi State. It was the third consecutive defeat for Bama (11-6, 2-3). Meanwhile, Tennessee (11-5, 2-3) was hit by a haymaker on Saturday at Kentucky, losing 107-79.
Nevertheless, Alabama has traditionally not been a road trip but a trap for LSU, and not the best team for Tigers games (Bama beat LSU in all three meetings last season, including the tournament final DRY). Tuscaloosa is hardly a vacation spot, and not a place LSU basketball traditionally goes to for recovery.
“Nobody’s going to feel sorry for us,” Wade said. “We have to keep moving forward. We have to improve. We struggled, our free throw performance deteriorated. All that caught up with us (Saturday).
“Sometimes you get what you deserve. It sounds harsh, but if you don’t deal with these details, make the same mistakes over and over again, it tends to happen.
Seeking its fourth straight win and a likely move to the Top 10 when the polls come out Monday, LSU picked the wrong time to stay flat on Saturday.
Besides falling into a huge hole early in their only other loss, 70-55 on Dec. 29 at Auburn, LSU’s defense covered most of the Tigers’ shortcomings. The defense gave LSU a mantle of invulnerability, which allowed the Tigers to soar in the national polls to the precipice of a top-10 ranking and a consistent top-five NCAA NET ranking all the way. the season. The Tigers went from No. 4 to No. 7 in the NET on Sunday.
From a general perspective, if an LSU basketball fan could have seen in November that the Tigers would be 15-2 and ranked in the NET top 10 on Jan. 16, they would have taken it in a millisecond. This is the mark of a program built on solid foundations.
But as we know here in South Louisiana, foundations can shift or crack quickly. LSU needs Pinson back and finds a way to improve their offensive game to prevent a disappointing loss to Arkansas from turning into a losing streak that threatens to doom such a promising season.
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