No. 10 Tigers Head to Florida for Wednesday Contest

by Kent Lowe (@LSUkent)
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No. 10 Tigers Head to Florida for Wednesday Contest

BATON ROUGE – One final road trip in the regular season waits the No. 10 LSU Tigers when the team travels to Gainesville, Florida for a Wednesday 6 p.m. CT date with Florida at the Exactech Arena at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.

The Voice of the Tigers, Chris Blair, and former LSU head coach John Brady will call the game on the affiliates of the LSU Sports Radio Network (Eagle 98.1 FM the flagship in Baton Rouge) and Karl Ravech and Andy Kennedy will have the television call on ESPN2.

The Tigers are 24-5 overall and 14-2 in SEC play, tied for the league lead into the Tuesday/Wednesday segment of games in this final week of the regular season. Florida is now 17-12 and 9-7 in the SEC.

The Tigers have three-straight wins over Tennessee, Texas A&M and at Alabama, while Florida had its five-game win streak stopped at home Saturday by Georgia. The Gators enter the midweek in a five-way tie for fourth place and the final double-bye spot in the SEC Tournament which begins next week in Nashville.

But LSU’s last loss was at home to Florida, 82-77 in overtime, and this will be the first time in LSU’s road winning streak in the league of eight games that the Tigers will be trying to turn a home loss into a road win. The Tigers presently share the school record with the 1981 team with eight road wins in league play.

In the last game just two weeks ago, all five starters were in double figures with Skylar Mays scoring 18, Naz Reid 16 (with 15 rebounds) and Kavell Bigby-Williams, Tremont Waters and Marlon Taylor getting 10 each. Both teams had 14 turnovers in the game, but Florida had a 21-7 advantage in points off turnovers.

The team will return home for its final home game at 7:30 p.m. CT on Saturday night against Vanderbilt. Senior ceremonies will begin prior to the game at 7:10 p.m.

Coach Will Wade met with the media on Monday and here are some of his comments:

Opening statement…
“Good win over Bama. I thought we executed well in the six-minute game. We were down three with six minutes to go and we were able to execute well down the stretch and finish to win that. Moving onto, obviously a big game against Florida on Wednesday. They beat us every which way you could beat us when we played them a couple weeks ago. I got out-coached, we got outplayed. It was a total, total beat down. Total takedown from start to finish against Florida. They picked on mismatches out of timeouts. They killed us on baseline out of bounds. They played harder than us. It was just a total beat down. That was my fault for not having us ready and me not being as prepared as Coach (Mike) White was. We’ve got a big challenge. Like I’ve said, this is a tough team for us to play. It’s a tough matchup. We’re going to need to show that we’ve improved in the past two weeks and we’ve gotten better and that we can handle what they throw at us a lot better than we did the first time around.”

On being ranked in the Top-10…
“Great. We were 13 last week. What’s the difference between this week and last week? We’ve just got to keep getting better. When you get up there, there’s a lot thinner margins. That’s not what we do it for.”

On Javonte Smart being named SEC Freshman of the Week…
“That was awesome. Well deserved. He’s played great for us all season long. Certainly the last two weeks, he’s taken his game to another level. This past week, he was phenomenal. The start he got off to at Alabama and how well he played against (Texas) A&M. I love his focus. I love how he’s been handling himself and how he just keeps working even though things are going well. He’s working, working, working. That’s what you want.”

On Tremont Waters being named a finalist for the Bob Cousy Award…
“I’ve said all along I think he’s the best point guard in the country. Tremont’s been great for us all season. He’s done a phenomenal job for us. When you win good things happen. When you win as a team, good things happen, individual awards come. I think our team’s been put together well and our guys enjoy playing together. That’s allowed us to flourish as a group. When you flourish as a group, the individual awards come. Tremont’s certainly been a huge part of what we’ve done all year.”

On if he thought he could reach this success this quick when he was hired two years ago…
“We knew we were going to have it eventually. You don’t know when it’s going to come. We have a special group. Everything has just come together the right way. You can always have talent, but when the talent gets along like our guys do – you never know exactly how that stuff is going to go. You know with the recruiting, you think you fit the right personalities, but sometime you hit on it, sometimes you don’t. We obviously hit on it and it’s propelled us to a solid season so far.”

On if the expectations were this high when the season started…
“Yeah. I thought we were really good. I’ve thought we were really good from the beginning. Obviously we hit some bumps in the road and we didn’t go as quickly as we thought we’d go. I thought we had a very, very good team from the start. I wasn’t very bashful about that early on in the year. I knew we were going to be good. It took us a little bit longer to get there, but the process was probably good for us. Now we’ve got to finish it off.”

On what this final stretch of games means…
“… We’ve got to put in everything to winning Wednesday. It’s a huge challenge moving forward because this is a team that has given us problems. I told you, this is the type of team that can get us beat when we end our season. This is a big challenge for us. One, we need to do it to do our next step, to try and win the first SEC Title since 2009. I don’t think we’ve ever gone 9-0 in the SEC on the road. I think it would be the first time in history that we’ve done that. We’ve been 8-0 one other time. There’s a lot to play for on Wednesday. Depending on what happens Wednesday, Saturday could be a lot to play for as well. I’m more interested in, can we be a lot better against a team like this that’s given us problems. It’s kind of been a tough team to play. Can we be better against them when their back’s against the wall? They’re going to be ready to play in a tough environment on senior night when they’ve got KeVaughn Allen and (Jalen) Hudson. They’ve got some very, very good players who are seniors. (Riley) Norris and (Donta) Hall who were seniors torched us from Bama on Saturday. Can we respond to all that stuff? That’s what I’m interested in. I think you can get a lot of positive out of that.”

On how to get Tremont Waters more involved after struggling in the first matchup vs. Florida…
“He’ll be feeling better. I think that will be the number one thing. I just don’t think he was himself. They had a lot to do with it. They put length on him. Their ball screen defense is very, very good. Like I said, we got outcoached. I had a very, very poor plan of attack the first time against Florida. We’re going to change up what we do and we’re going to have a much better plan of attack. I don’t put all that on our players. A lot of that was on our coaching and my lack of having us as prepared as we needed to be.”

On if the past Florida loss is a motivating factor on Saturday…
“I don’t know about motivating. We’ve got what we’ve got in front of us here and this is the next game against a very good Florida team. We’ve got to pay the next one and play as hard as we can and certainly play better than we did in the first game against them. I look at it more as a challenge of, can we get better against these type teams? That’s the number one challenge. Can we get better and show some growth against these type of teams that have given us problems? And we did against Alabama.”

On what type of teams give LSU problems…
“Gritty, grimy, tough, defensive minded teams that are very physical.”

On why LSU struggles against those type of teams…
“The way they throw us off rhythm. You’re not as in rhythm all night. You’re always out of rhythm. You can’t just dial stuff up all the time like when you’re in rhythm. You’re just always out of rhythm. You’ve got to be able to play out of rhythm and it takes a different type of team to be able to do that. Hopefully we can make that adjustment and play that way.”

On how Javonte Smart has adjusted to college ball…
“Every level you go up, there’s differences. Certainly, you’re finishing over 6-10 kids at this level. It’s a little bit different. He’s adjusted well. He’s worked hard. He stays after and works with a 10-pound ball on his finishing and getting in there around the basket, doing what he needs to do. Sometime he wears a weight vest when he does it. He does everything he needs to do to put himself into position to be successful. I think he’s gotten more explosive. He takes good care of his body which has allowed him to hold up throughout the season. He’s been playing major, major minutes for us throughout the season. He’s been able to take good care of his body which has allowed him to hold up and he’s certainly hit his stride here as he’s gotten more comfortable to finishing over the length and he’s continued to work over that.”

On if coach considers a regular season conference championship important …
“Yeah. I think the hardest thing to do is win your regular season conference championship. You can get lucky in a tournament or get bad luck in a tournament. You guys know how much I love consistency. If you win your regular season conference championship, that means you’re consistent. That’s how things should be judged is how consistent you are. You get in these one game deals, these one game tournaments, crazy things can happen. I’ve been on the plus side of that. We went to a Final Four (at VCU) as an 11 seed from the first four. I’ve been on the plus side of that and I been on the side where you get upset and that’s not a lot of fun either. One of my years at Chattanooga, we were a one bid league. We tied for the conference championship, regular season. We got the two seed and we got beat by the 10 seed who won the 7/10 game. I don’t want to say we had the best team, but we certainly had – there was two of us. Wofford, who’s just trucking everybody now – us and Wofford were clearly better than everyone else. We split during the regular season. We had won at their place and they had won at our place. We were clearly the two best teams and in a one game tournament we got beat. I think the consistency over the regular season, there’s a lot to be said for that.”

On what he saw from Tremont Waters Saturday after missing two games…
“I thought he did what he needed to do. I thought he was a little tentative, but for good reason. He knew we were in good rhythm and he almost came in like he didn’t want to screw anything up. I told him, ‘We’ve been great with you all year. You’ve got to be aggressive and do what you do.’ He made some big plays for us at them end with his defensive steal. I thought he did a great job at the end of the game making plays. He’ll grow and continue to get more comfortable. He’ll be off his minutes restriction at Florida. We couldn’t play him more than 25 minutes at Bama. He’ll be off the minutes restriction.”