The LSU Tigers keep doing it. They keep digging themselves into a ditch, but they keep finding a way to escape in the final minutes of a game. Mississippi State, Texas A&M, and now Ole Miss.
By Matt Zemek
The Tigers once again trailed inside the under-eight-minute media timeout but rallied for a victory. One is forced to marvel at the late-game consistency of the Tigers, which keeps minimizing the negative effects of LSU’s inconsistency in the first 30-32 minutes of a game. The Tigers obviously need to keep doing what they are doing at crunch time, but they can find other points of focus to guide them through the rest of their season, which begins with Tuesday’s game against the Florida Gators.
1 – Loose balls
One of the more noticeable features of Florida’s blowout win over Auburn on Saturday was the fact that the Gators had a lot of shots blocked, but then gathered the loose ball and scored in the scramble situations when Auburn defenders were scattered across the court. It is easy to call that luck, and to be fair to Auburn, a certain degree of luck is involved when a blocked shot keeps landing in the hands of the other team’s players. Yet, this is still a teachable topic for LSU. It is one of the core principles of basketball that while loose balls can fly in any direction, players need to be trained to expect where a ball is most likely to go. One can regularly (not always, but usually) go to a spot on the floor where one expects the ball to fly after a missed shot off the rim or a block. The shot-blocker needs to be attentive to where he blocks the ball. Bill Russell and the Boston Celtics mastered this particular art in the 1950s and 1960s. You CAN train yourself to be in the right position. At the very least, players can prevent the other team from getting the ball. They might not get the ball themselves, but they can fend off the opposing player and allow a teammate to grab the loose ball. LSU needs to pay attention to this dynamic against Florida.
2 – Keep banging the boards
LSU’s rebounding advantage of 47-31 helped the Tigers win at Ole Miss. The Arkansas game was also won on the glass. LSU is saving itself by winning so many extra possessions. This is the foundational aspect of the team’s success. This is a pillar for LSU, one of its best attributes throughout any game the Tigers play.
3 – Strike early
Florida was a very thorny opponent for LSU last season, even though the Tigers won the SEC and got the top seed at the SEC Tournament. Florida did just thrash Auburn, but the Gators have looked very weak on road games in early-stage SEC competition. This is a game in which LSU needs to avoid breathing life into an opponent. Florida will grow in confidence if it gets off to a good start or can at least play LSU on even terms throughout the first half. If LSU lets Florida think it can win this game, the Tigers’ worst tendencies could bite them. This is a game in which to punch Florida in the teeth from the opening tip. The Gators will probably retreat if LSU can snag a quick 12-point lead.