The Big 12-SEC Challenge returns on Saturday. The LSU Tigers might be stepping outside the SEC for a brief period of time, but they hope that if things get tight late in regulation, they will continue to display their uncanny knack for making the critical plays at the right times.
LSU continues to win razor-close ballgames, with Skylar Mays and Javonte Smart coming through time and time again. Hitting the big shot, getting the key rebound, making the essential defensive stop – LSU knows how to do these things. Let’s see what else the Tigers need to tend to when they visit the Texas Longhorns.
By Matt Zemek
1 – Make Texas win from the 3-point line
The Texas Longhorns, under coach Shaka Smart, have been consistently unreliable from 3-point range. Texas doesn’t score very well because it doesn’t shoot very well. The Longhorns were embarrassed by West Virginia this past Monday, a loss so ugly that some commentators likened the game to the 66-3 loss Texas suffered to UCLA in football under coach John Mackovic in 1997, shortly before he was fired and then replaced by Mack Brown. For whatever reason, Texas doesn’t produce the knockdown shooting needed to be a top-tier Big 12 team. LSU needs to make sure to shut off dribble-drives and contain Texas in the low post. If LSU can protect the rim and make Texas realize it has to shoot long-distance shots to win, the Tigers will put themselves in a noticeably favorable position on Saturday.
2 – One and done
The fact that Texas doesn’t shoot well leads into a second broader point of emphasis for LSU in Austin. If the Longhorns aren’t able to significantly improve their 3-point shooting, it stands to reason that their best offense will be to grab rebounds and put them back for second-chance points. As long as LSU can limit Texas’s possessions to “one and done,” with no offensive rebounds and no steady stream of second-chance points, it is very hard to see how Texas will be able to score enough to win. Forcing Texas into a lot of missed threes is one part of the overall defensive game plan, but making sure to seal off the Longhorns on the glass is the other equally necessary part. You can’t have one without the other.
3 – Take a punch
LSU knows how to do this, but I underscore the need to weather the storm because of Texas’ situation. The Longhorns, having been embarrassed by West Virginia, are likely to be mad. It’s not as though taking a punch doesn’t apply to other games – it does – but that notion is especially relevant when an opponent just got humiliated. A team needs to be aware of that sort of thing. Will Wade has to remind his players that Texas is likely to crank it up a notch in the first 10 minutes. If LSU meets that challenge, it can settle into the game. LSU has better players than Texas. Play to a stalemate in the first 10 minutes, then win the final 30 with superior quality. Don’t let the Longhorns believe they are better. Deny them a big early start.