Tigers, Longhorns Meet In SEC/Big 12 Challenge Game

LSU Travels to Austin for 1 P.M. Saturday Basketball Contest

by Kent Lowe | Sr. Assoc. Communications Director
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Tigers, Longhorns Meet In SEC/Big 12 Challenge Game

BATON ROUGE – After two years away from the event, the LSU Tigers return to the SEC/Big 12 Basketball Challenge Saturday when they travel to Austin, Texas to take on the University of Texas at the Frank Erwin Center. 

The game, part of 10 pairings between Southeastern Conference and Big 12 teams, will tip at just after 1 p.m. CT on ESPN (Paul Sunderland and Fran Fraschilla) and will be broadcast on the affiliates of the LSU Sports Radio Network (Guaranty Media Flagship in BR Eagle 98.1 FM) with the “Voice of the Tigers Chris Blair and former basketball coach John Brady.

This will mark the 31st time the teams have met but the first time since Dec. 10, 2006 in Houston when Texas was a 76-75 decision. The teams have not met in Austin in over 20 years as Texas won a 69-63 decision in 2007. Texas has a 5-4 lead all-time in games played in Texas.

The Tigers are 14-4 overall and 6-0 in the SEC after another close conference win, this time 84-82 over Florida on Tuesday. 

Texas is 12-6 and 2-4 in the Big 12 after a 97-59 loss to No. 14 West Virginia on Monday.

LSU is 1-2 in three SEC/Big 12 events with Texas 3-3 in six appearances.  Of course, one of the storylines in this matchup is the first meeting as head coaches between Coach Will Wade of LSU and Shaka Smart of Texas. The two were both on Coach Oliver Purnell’s staff at Clemson before Coach Wade served as an assistant coach at VCU on Smart’s staff there. 

It would be Coach Wade that replaced Smart at VCU as head coach when Smart made the move to be the Texas head coach. Smart is in his fifth year at Texas with an 83-72 record. Wade served for two years as head coach at VCU before take the head coaching job at LSU in late March 2017.

LSU had six players in double figures in the win over Florida with Emmitt Williams getting 19, Skylar Mays 18 (7 assists), Trendon Watford 14 points, Javonte Smart 13 (7 assists) and Darius Days and Marlon Taylor 10 points each. Taylor had his first double double with 11 rebounds to go with the 10 points. 

Mays averaged 16.1 points per game to lead LSU with Williams at 13.7 points and Watford 12.7. Days averages a team best 8.1 rebounds a game. 

Matt Coleman III leads Texas in scoring (12.2) and assists (4.3) while making 44.1 percent from the three-point arc. Courtney Ramey (10.7), Jase Febres (10.4) and Andrew Jones (10.3) also average in double figures for the Longhorns.

Following this road game, LSU returns to conference play with two home games next week – Jan. 29 against Alabama and Feb. 1 versus Ole Miss. Tickets are available online at LSUTix.net.

Coach Wade met with the media prior to the team’s departure for Austin and here are some of his comments:

Opening statement…
“We’re excited to be in the SEC Big 12 Challenge. We hadn’t been in this thing in a few years. We’re excited that we get to be in it and represent the SEC which will be good. It’s a good opportunity for us. In our non-conference we haven’t played as well as we needed to. We have, obviously, a very, very good win over Liberty here at home. We don’t really have much to hang our hat on away from home. This is a great opportunity for us to get a big win, a quad one win away from home and tack that on to our NCAA Tournament resume’. There’s a lot going on for us in this game. This will be a big, big opportunity for us. We know Texas is going to be ready for us. They’re talented. They’re well coached. They’re backed in a corner a little bit coming off a rough outing against West Virginia. Things kind of unraveled there for them for a little stretch and they weren’t able to recover. They’ve played good basketball for a majority of the year. You watch them play Kansas, the Oklahoma State game and some of those other games, they’ve played very, very well. We’ve got to be ready to go and hopefully we can represent the SEC and play well enough to where they’ll keep us in this thing for a few years.”

On his relationship with Texas coach Shaka Smart…
“I certainly wouldn’t be a head coach as fast as I was if it wasn’t for Shaka. We’ve known each other for a long time. We used to work camps together. They used to allow support staff members to work camps so we would go to this camp in New Jersey – The Hoop Group Camp. We worked that together and we got to know each other there. Then coach (Oliver) Purnell hired him from Akron when I was at Clemson so we were at Clemson together for a year. He left and I left and we were able to reunite when he got the head coaching job at VCU. Obviously, he had a lot of success at VCU and a lot of us assistants were able to kind of ride those coattails and parlay that into some head coaching jobs for ourselves. (Smart), along with coach Purnell and other guys, have been major influences.

“I’ve worked with him longer than anybody else I’ve worked for as an assistant so a lot of the things we do in our program are built around what he does. I told our guys this and this is the truth. (Texas) is coming off a tough loss, but one thing I learned from him is you better have relationships with the players. You better spend time with the players. He does that, maybe the best of anybody in college basketball. Those guys are going to play hard for him. Whatever their best is, we’re going to see that on Saturday. They’re going to rally around him and they’re going to play hard for him and he’s going to have them going. They’re never going to tune him out because of the relationships and the time he spends with them off the court. That’s a major lesson I learned from him that I’ve tried to carry with me as I’ve gone through coaching.”

On how much he and Coach Smart keep in touch during the season…
“He follows us and I follow them. We’ll shoot texts back and forth with each other. In the past we’ve scrimmaged each other. We’ve done those closed scrimmages. This year we didn’t because we were playing. In the past we’ve scrimmaged each

other. Certainly I’ll ask him what he thinks of our team and he’ll ask me what I think about their team. We certainly stay in touch and follow them and root for them and wish them nothing but the best, except for Saturday.

On what he learned most from Shaka Smart… 

“Spending time with the players. How important your relationships are with the players.  Being able to spend time with them. Being able to relate to them. When you’re an assistant you think you know everything and he would always tell me, ‘I can’t wait until you get a head coaching job.’ I’d walk in and say, ‘Coach this is crazy what we’re doing, I don’t know what the heck you’re doing, this makes no sense,’ and he would say, ‘just wait until you’re a head coach.’ I’ll be darned if I don’t do about 80-percent of the stuff he did that I thought was nuts. I tell my staff that now, ‘just wait until you’re a head coach, you’re going to call me about six months into the job and say I see why you did it that way now.’ The amount of time, care, and concern he put into every player. He had a knack for things. This was a lesson I learned. We were playing really well at VCU and a kid named Brandon Rozzell who was a really good shooter – he was on our final four team. We had a kid, Troy Daniels, who is now in the NBA. Plays for the Lakers, a very good player. Troy was his backup, didn’t play much the first couple years. Coach would always stay after practice and shoot with Troy, every day.  I’m sitting there thinking ‘Golly, coach. Troy hardly ever gets in the game. He’s a sophomore. Quit wasting your time with him, spend your time with one of these cats who is going to play.’ Low and behold, Rozzell got hurt, kind of the same injury (Charles) Manning has. Fifth metatarsal in his foot. Was out for four days. We were playing William and Mary on the road; we were in the CAA at the time. We ended up having to play Troy a lot, I want to say he hit three or four threes in the game.  A lot of that was the product of Coach Smart spending so much time with him. The kid knew that he believed in him when we had to put him in.  At that time, I wasn’t smart enough to think that something could happen and we were going to need Troy. Coach saw things in Troy that a lot of the rest of us couldn’t see and that’s what I tell our staff all the time … That’s why we keep working with these guys; you never know when you’re going to need them … A lot of that stuff I learned from him.”  

On what LSU can take away from close games…
“It gives us some confidence in those types of situations, and we feel good about what we do, but we have to avoid those situations. I know I sound like a broken record talking about that all the time, but we have to be better at getting ourselves out of those tricky situations and being able to expand leads. The last two games we’ve had double digit leads and they’ve both came down to the wire because we haven’t been able to execute. We’ll try to learn from film, break it down and hopefully we get better.”

On what Texas does well and how LSU can exploit…
“They shoot a bunch of threes. Almost 40 percent of their shots are threes, so we have to do a good job guarding the three-point line. Defensively, they’re very stout. The new assistant coach they hired came from Michigan with (John) Beilein. They’re solid, their rotations are solid, ball-screen defense is sharp, they shrink the floor. It’ll be a challenge scoring and getting our pace going. We can’t get barraged by threes. They hit three threes against Kansas State to get a quick lead and they were able to roll from there. We have to do a good job there, they have some good shooters. While doing that, we can’t have Jericho Sims sitting there having a dunk fest. He’s a good player, one of the most improved in the BIG 12. We can’t have him dunking all over us because we’re huddled around the three-point line.”

On Marlon Taylor’s scoring the past couple games…
“He has to stay consistent. It’s not easy. It’s one thing to answer the call one or two games, but we need him to answer the call for another 15 games, or however many games we have left. We need him to keep answering the bell, keep playing well, and keep doing what he does. That’s a by-product of his preparation though. He’s preparing a lot better and amazingly, plays a lot better.”

On if he and Shaka Smart will know what each other will do…
“He’s changed up his offense a little bit. I give him credit, he’s been running a lot of five-out stuff. We started the year running a bunch of five-out stuff and I scrapped it and went back to doing what we know. He stuck with it though, he’s probably a little more stubborn than I am. They do some different things. They still run some of the bread and butter stuff, but they don’t run the hooks and stuff that I learned from him. They do a lot of stuff from the elbows and try to get their bigs to play from the elbows. That’s not something we’ve done. We give the ball to Trendon Watford there and let him go to work, outside of that we don’t do a whole much. But he’ll know just about every play call we call out. We have new stuff that he hasn’t seen, it’s not like we haven’t added some stuff from when I was with him. But he’s watching film, there won’t be many secrets.”

On playing out-of-conference games while having momentum in SEC play…
“It’s interesting. I was looking at the last time we did this, and it was when I was at Chattanooga. We were kind of in the same spot where in the first-place hunt in the league race, and we had to go play a mid-week road game at Eastern Kentucky and we just got demolished. But we got back to league play and did pretty well. It’s different but it’s a great opportunity. We have holes in our resume so to be able to play a good team on the road. We have to take advantage of it.” 

On Emmitt Williams’ impact on the team … 
“He had a huge play in the last Florida game.  He gets his shot blocked by (Omar) Payne, gets his own rebound, goes back up, and finishes it for an and-one.  Emmitt (Williams’s) motor is just tremendous; he plays extremely hard, goes after every ball, is tenacious on both ends, and gets wrapped up in the game …  He’s not worried about all of the other stuff, he’s very laser like focused on what he needs to do.  His main job is to bring energy and he’s doing a really good job of playing post defense.  That was an area that we thought could be a major issue for us and it really hasn’t been an issue outside of the Southern California game, and that’s because he battles his tail off down there.  Offensively, with him playing the five, we get a lot of good mismatches because it’s hard for a team to guard him.  It’s a man’s game down there, so what he’s done defensively has just been tremendous.”