LSU Gold

Tigers to Face Houston Wednesday at Maravich Center

by Kent Lowe (@LSUkent)
Men's Basketball Interviews - Dec. 12 Promotions & Giveaways WatchESPN +0
Tigers to Face Houston Wednesday at Maravich Center

BATON ROUGE – The LSU Tigers get the first of what will be two consecutive difficult home tests when the Houston Cougars come to the Maravich Center for an 8 p.m. Wednesday tip.

The Cougars are 8-1 on the season and receiving votes in both the AP and the Coaches poll. The only loss was on a neutral court in the second game of the season to Liberty. Since then, the Cougars have been winning and winning big, including a 91-65 decision versus Arkansas in a game played in the team’s home away from home this season at Texas Southern. (LSU will host 9-1 Stephen F. Austin on Saturday.)

The Cougars home’ Hofheinz Pavilion is being transformed into the Fertitta Center and in this new home-and-home contract, the teams are expected to play there during the 2018-19 season. This is the third straight year the teams have met.

Houston is 2-0 on the road and comes in off a 77-58 win at Saint Louis on Dec. 9. The Tigers (5-2) resumed their home schedule this past Sunday with a 97-84 win over UNCW.

The game is the second of the “Christmas Wadecation” games in December and the first 2,000 fans to the building will receive Beanie Hats.

Tickets are on sale from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the LSU Athletic Ticket Office and at Tickets will go on sale at 6:30 p.m. at the upper concourse ticket windows of the Maravich Center at the same time doors open. LSU students get in free with a valid LSU ID.

The Cougars 8-1 record is their best start to a season since the 2007-08 team began 11-1 … Houston has outrebounded its first nine opponents to open the season, something that has not happened since 1981-82.

Houston is led by Rob Gray, the senior guard, leads the team averaging 21.6 points and 3.5 assists per game. Houston also starts Lafayette product Corey Davis, Jr. (9.6 ppg, 3.0 apg) and Galen Robinson, Jr. at guards (3.7 ppg, 3.6 apg) with Devin Davis (13.1 ppg, 7.4 rpg) and Breaon Brady (5.6 ppg, 5.8 rpg) at the forwards. West Van Beck comes off the bench and scores at an 11.0 points per game clip.

Kelvin Sampson is in his fourth year as head coach of the Cougars and in his 29th year as a head coach.

Gray leads the league in points and ranks among league’s top-eight leaders in free throw percentage, 3-point field goals per game, 3-point field goal percentage and assist-turnover ratio.

The Tigers are expected to continue with the lineup of the last two games with Tremont Waters (18.3 ppg, 6.6 apg, 3.6 rpg), Skylar Mays (12.1 ppg, 3.4 2.6 apg) and Randy Onwuasor (5.2 ppg, 1.2 apg) at guards with Wayde Sims (7.7 ppg, 3.9 rpg) and Aaron Epps (6.5 ppg, 3.7 rpg) at the forwards.

SEC Player of the Week Duop Reath will continue to come off the bench where he has had success, including 30 points in 27 minutes of the game against UNCW Sunday.

LSU leads the nation in shooting percentage inside the arc at 63.1 percent including 45-of-74 over the last two games. This is up from last season when LSU shot 50.2% inside the arc. LSU is making 30.7 field goals per game overall, 14th in the NCAA and up 2.3 from last year’s season average of 27.5.

Waters just missed a triple double against UNCW with 20 points, 10 rebounds and 9 rebounds. He is the first to have back-to-back double figure assist games since Randy Livingston had three straight games of 10 or more assists during the 1994-95 season.

The game will be broadcast on the affiliates of the LSU Sports Radio Network with “Voice of the Tigers” Chris Blair and former LSU head coach John Brady on the broadcast (98.1 FM The Eagle in BR). The game will be on over-the-air television through the SEC Network with Roy Philpott and Brooke Weisbrod on the call.

Keep up with the Tiger basketball team on Facebook at and on Twitter @LSUBasketball.

Coach Will Wade made an appearance before the media on Tuesday and here are some of his comments:

Opening Statement…
“Getting ready for Houston. Big test (Wednesday). They are big; they are physical. They are the best team we will play since we got back from Maui, probably since we played Notre Dame. It will be a big challenge for us. We have to continue to prepare well, give ourselves an opportunity to win in the last six minutes.”

On what he has seen from the defense…
“I see progress. Our communication is getting better. We were better in that game. (UNCW) hit some tough shots. We were better and our guys executed what we were asking them to do a little bit better. I think it was a step forward. When there is progress you want to reward that. I thought our guys had some of that.”

On what he told the team about turnovers…
“If we turn the ball over that much we are not going to win. We can’t turn the ball over. We have to be 12 or less in the turnover department. Probably around 10. We turned the ball over much more than that. We are just not going to have enough possessions. They are a team that is very difficult to score off of their set defense. They have it packed in. They don’t allow you inside the paint. You have to hit outside jump shots. Most of them are late, contested outside jump shots. You can’t give them extra cracks without giving yourself those cracks at it. It is very important that we run good offense. Our offense is going to help our defense, that we maintain possession of the ball as well.”

On how Houston’s lineup will effect LSU’s rotation…
“Their four man is usually (Devin) Davis who is 6’6”, 6’7”. He is a big old kid. He transferred from Indiana … He is a good player. He plays the four for them. They have three big old guys that they rotate in there at the five. They just kind of play the five by committee. I think they each play 15 to 18 minutes a game, some of them 20. (Nura) Zanna, 35 (Fabian) White, and the big kid 24 (Breaon Brady) who they start. They have some big bodies. I understand what you are saying in terms of height, but they have a little bit more girth on them than we do too. That is an issue.”

On what he attributes to the team’s 63.7% two-point percentage…
“I think our guys understand what we want. We have guys who are pretty good at driving and finishing in the lane. Honestly, we played a bunch of teams that played zone so it is a little bit easier sledding against the zone to get the ball in the paint. Houston is going to have that thing so packed in tomorrow. It is going to be very tough sledding to get in the paint. You have to be a man when you get down in the paint. There is going to be a body in there for you to finish. It will be a little bit different than what we are used to. We think our guys understand what a good shot is and where we want to shoot the ball. I am happy about our two-point percentage. A lot of it comes too from we don’t take a lot of long twos. We don’t take twos really from outside 12 feet. Anything outside 12 feet for us is pretty much a three. We try to limit our long twos which are the lowest percentage shot you can take. We do a pretty good job of limiting those and getting to the front of the rim.”

On the rebounding against UNCW…
“We were better. We will be tested big time. These guys rebound 38 percent of their misses on offense. That is top 10 in the country. This is a real deal rebound team. They have the potential to absolutely maul you on the glass if you don’t put a body on them. They are big, they are thick. They have some girth on them. They try to shove you around and bully you around down there.”

On how Randy Onwuasor has adjusted to his new role…
“I will say this, I think Randy has done a great job being a good teammate. Sometimes these fifth year guys, it is a tricky situation. Sometimes when things don’t get off to as good of a start as you would like, it is easy to point fingers and blame people and get upset. He has just had some bad breaks. He had the transition layup in the last game. He did some good things. He got fouled. We drew up a backdoor play for him to a post-up out of a timeout. It was a side out of bounds play and he got fouled. We weren’t in the bonus so he didn’t get to go to the free throw line. I think because Randy has hung in there, he has some big games ahead of him and I think he will help us. It is just an adjustment. It is a different level of athlete, a different caliber thing he is going through. I told our guys yesterday, Duop (Reath) was SEC player of the week which is a tremendous honor. Understand, that came a game after I took him out of the starting lineup. He could have responded a different way, he could have pouted, or he could have been upset. He went to work, and spent time working over the exam break and doing what he needed to do. I tell all our guys that. How you respond to things, whether it is basketball, life or whatever it is. The only thing you can control is your response which is the next most important thing. Whatever happened, how are you going to respond? I think Duop did a good job of that and I think that is a good model for Randy to follow as we forward here. I think there are some good stuff ahead for Randy. He showed some of it in that Marquette game. I thought he was going to play good against UT Martin, but he got those two early fouls. One of them wasn’t his fault. That was one of our other guy’s fault he just had to clean up and got fouled. Just a few unfortunate circumstances in that game.”

On why Wayde Sims does the simple things so well…
“I tell our guys to be good at all the things that take no talent. He is excellent at that stuff. Now he has some talent too, don’t read into that he is not talented. You can control that stuff. Be great at the stuff that takes no talent. He is really good at that. That is a talent; that is a skill to be really good at that. He has an advanced understanding of what we are doing. He has really worked hard. You can see that in the way he has reshaped his body, how he practices. He never complains. I was probably as hard on him when we got here to start as I was anybody because I was just trying to see if he could hold up. He held up. He is the type of player you want. He has a great personality off the court. Kind of jovial, joking kind of guy off the court. When he hits the lines it is business, he get very competitive and after it. He is a key part to what we do and we are not nearly as good when he is not on the court. You can see that with your eyes. The numbers and advanced analytics certainly back all that up. He is always in the right place, always where he needs to be on the court. He has a good understanding of what other guys need to do as well. Very pleased with him.”

On if he is surprised that Wayde Sims emerged as the team’s best two-way player…
“I would say that I am a little bit surprised. That is what he is. You can’t undervalue the fact that he has won. He won a lot at U-High. He has won at a lot of places that he has been. He has a knack about him for being around winning and finding a way to win and we need that in our program. I think he has asserted himself and has done a good job. He has worked at it and earned it. He hadn’t been given anything. He has earned it. He has certainly worked at it and worked for it and that is what you want.”

On if he sees Brandon Rachal being a lockdown defender…
“Yea. His value is certainly tilted a little bit more towards the defensive end of the court. We just have to be more solid in concepts and understanding of what goes on. He is very active, which I like. He flies around, he is active. Sometimes you mistake activity for progress, so you have to be active but also be where you are supposed to be. Maybe you’re running around, but it may put three other guys in a tough spot because of something you do. So he just has to be a little more solid. You would rather wind somebody down than wind them up. I like that about Brandon. That he flying around and we could certainly use a couple more guys to fly around with him on defense. Now we have to get to the point where you are not a freshman anymore. People are going to pick on some of those mistakes and we have to be a lot more solid with what we are doing when we are flying around. I am pleased with his overall effort in games.”

On what Rob Gray does really well on the offensive side of the ball…
“A lot of things. Number one thing is he draws a lot of fouls. You have to be really displaced on him. He gets the ball in his right hand and drives the ball towards the rim, he is going to get fouled or get the score almost every time. You can’t give him angles. You have to do a great job with him on the ball-screens and make sure you don’t let him get the ball in his right hand and get him going downhill. One thing to me is the most impressive is that he is a closer. In the last four or five minutes in games, he is the only guy they have that shoots. He makes almost everything late in the game. That is a big time skill to have. When everyone in the gym knows that you are going to shoot and you are still the guy that gets the shot off every time and make it a vast majority of the time, which is a huge trait to have. He has that and the team has confidence in him and has a real belief in him late in the game and all throughout the game. He is a good player, but they have other good players. Everyone knows that they trucked Arkansas, but Gray picked up two fouls in the first three minutes on the game. They were up by 15 at halftime, but he played like three minutes in the first half. They have other really good players that can step up. He is certainly a focal point of what they do, but they have a lot of capable guys and good players. Best thing I can say about him is that he is a closer. He is as good of a closer as I have seen in a while.”