Tigers Hit Road To Face South Carolina

Tip Set For 5 p.m. On LSU Sports Radio Network; ESPN2

by Kent Lowe | Sr. Assoc. Communications Director
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Tigers Hit Road To Face South Carolina

BATON ROUGE – An important two-game road trip begins Saturday as the Tigers travel to Columbia, South Carolina to take on the Gamecocks at 5 p.m. CT at the Colonial Life Arena.

The game will be broadcast on the affiliates of the LSU Sports Radio Network with the “Voice of the Tigers” Chris Blair and former LSU Coach John Brady courtside (Guaranty Media BR flagship Eagle 98.1 FM) and televised on ESPN2 with Beth Mowins and Andy Kennedy.

The Tigers are 18-8 and 9-4 in the SEC, two games behind Kentucky and in a three-way tie for second with Auburn and Florida. South Carolina is one game back at 8-5 (16-10 overall). 

Both teams are coming off losses in the mid-week with LSU falling at the Maravich Center, 79-76, to Kentucky with Mississippi State at home defeating South Carolina by the exact same score. 

Skylar Mays led LSU with 17 points with Darius Days getting 13 points and 11 rebounds and Trendon Watford 10. LSU got help in scoring off the bench in the game as Marlon Taylor scored 13 points and Charles Manning Jr., scored 11.

Manning played 17 minutes in his second game back from a broken fifth metatarsal bone in his right foot suffered on Jan. 14. He hit all three three-point attempts in the game and will probably see extended minutes for the Tigers down the stretch.

Malik Kotsar had 24 points and Jermaine Couisnard 17 in the loss to State for South Carolina. AJ Lawson, who scored 12 points, is the team’s leading scorer averaging 13.7 points a game. 

LSU will travel to Florida for its mid-week contest on Wednesday at Exactech Arena at The O’Connell Center. That is an 8 p.m. CT contest. The Tigers next home game will be at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 29, against Texas A&M. The school will retire the jersey of Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf at halftime of the game. Tickets are available at LSUTix.net. 

Coach Will Wade met with the media on Friday before the team departed for Columbia and here are some of his comments:

On if he’s expecting a low scoring game against South Carolina …

“Well you know, South Carolina is playing a lot faster this year.  They do have the best defense in the league.  Kentucky has the second best defense. Statistically speaking, South Carolina has the best defense.  They do the same thing they always do.  You’re not going to be bale to turn the ball very easily.  You’re not going to be able to reverse the ball very easily.  Offensively they’re playing a lot faster than they’ve typically played. This is his (Frank Martin’s) best shooting team.  They’re shooting it best of any of his teams in eight years there. It may not be quite as slow as usual just because he has a point guard, (Jermaine) Couisnard, he’s a good player. He was an academic red shirt last year. I think that’s the proper term, academic red shirt. He’s a really good player. He’s from outside of Chicago. I think they trust him a little bit more than they have some of their point guards in the past. They play a lot faster than they have been playing. I don’t necessarily know if it will be that slow of a game.”

On South Carolina’s defense and what makes them so good …

“Well you can’t move the ball. You can’t turn the ball. You have to play a lot of one-on-one. They help from a lot of different spots. The main issue for us is that they’re very, very physical. We’re not the most physical outfit you’ve ever seen. Their physicality is going to be the number one issue for us.”

On defensive changes he is trying to make and how they have worked … 

“We’ll see. We’re not going to become Virginia overnight. If we could just get five to ten percent better that would be another two or three stops a game. We probably would have another two or three wins. Can we get five to ten percent better? I believe we can. We spent a lot of time yesterday working on our own defense ourselves, our ball screen defense. Part of it is my fault. I spend a lot more time on our offense.  I’m just more offensively inclined.  When our offense goes bad we got some things we can get back to that are just staples of our offense. Which is get back to sprinting to the Xs and having great spacing and letting our talent to take over. Get back to getting onto the offensive glass. We’ve got some principles that we can just get back to. Defensively we just have a smorgasbord of a bunch of crap, basically, that we don’t really have anything you can hang your hat on. That’s my fault. Not our player’s fault. I simplified everything, this is what we’re going to do and this is what we’re going to get good at. If teams can beat us while we’re good at that then we’ll just have to live with that. We can’t keep doing 100 different things not very well.  Let’s just try to do two or three things very, very well. That’s probably as active as I was coaching defense, shoot I hadn’t coached defense in awhile yesterday. We just need to get a little bit better. We’re scoring 85 points a game and we’ve lost four out of five. We just got to get a little bit better. We don’t need dramatic improvement. We just need a little bit of improvement.”

On if the team thinks they can make it to the end if they fix the mistakes …

“Look, everyone focuses (on that) because this is all we know. We’re LSU There’s 15 teams across the country that are just like us. There’s a lot of teams that would trade places with us, we’re in a pretty good spot still. Sometimes, this is good, but if you would have told me before the year, I probably said this privately to some of y’all. I just wanted to make the NCAA tournament with this team. If we could just make the NCAA tournament I thought that would be a very, very good year. Well then everybody gets a little bit out of whack when you start off 8-0. We probably should have started off 5-3 or 6-2 but we started off 8-0.  

“I told my staff this the other day, ‘our goal was to find a way to squeeze this team into the NCAA tournament’. That was our goal. Everybody gets out of whack. You start thinking, ‘Oh man maybe we can win this thing again. Maybe we can do this. Maybe we can do that’. The reality is maybe that just wasn’t in the cards. We’re in a position to do what we ultimately set out to do. With the way everything is this year if you can just get in, then it’s all about the match ups. You just get in and then see what happens. I have high expectations too; trust me I want to win the thing every year. But the reality is, you watch us and you watch Kentucky, there’s some differences. It’s just a fact. That’s my fault because we didn’t shore up some of our deficiencies in the spring. That’s on me. It’s my fault. It’s not our player’s fault. We’re playing the best we can with what we got. We’re a little bit deficient in some areas. 

“We’re in a good spot. We’re in a great spot. We just have to finish strong here in the stretch. A lot of teams would trade places with us and there’s a lot of teams that are in the same place we’re in. We’ve got to be able to finish strong and finish the season off right. Get ourselves in the NCAA tournament. Number one thing is we need to try and get the double bye at the SEC tournament so we’re not playing on Thursday. Get the double bye, if we get the double bye we’re in the NCAA tournament. You can play it out from there.”

On pairing down the defense and if he ever had to so late in the season

“Except for one year at VCU, we’ve never been just stellar defensively. That’s just not the way we play. You can argue the merits of that all you want but we’ve also never been this bad. You’ve got to change some things. You’ve got to recognize that and change some things that are obviously not working. Its what I just told you, South Carolina has something they can hang their hat on. That’s why they’re the number one defense in the league. They can hang their hat on their physicality. They can hang their hat on their denial and making you play on-one-one. All the best defenses are basically low assist defenses. If you look at teams that advance to the Sweet Sixteen and beyond, all of their defenses basically have three common factors. One of them is they don’t foul. Another one of the factors is they basically force you to play one-on-one. Force you into more isolation situations and force you to play one-on-one and beat you playing one-one-on. So you can’t move the ball and have a bunch of assists. Those are two of the main factors of very effective defenses that advance deep in the NCAA tournament. 

There’s always an exception, like when West Virginia was pressing. You look at the last 15 years what a defensive profile of a second weekend team, those are the three factors. South Carolina can hang their hat on that. They’re going to make you play one-on-one. So they got stuff they can hang their hat on defensively and that’s what I’m talking about. We’ve got to have something that we can do. If you look at it, we’ve pressed part of the year. We’ve been in a two-two-one press part of the year. We don’t cause any turnovers in the press so what good is that. So we just have a bunch of stuff that we’ve been doing that we don’t have a lot of results for. It’s on us to find some things that can get us some results. I went back, spent the day or so looking at, ‘right here is where we had some success; here some stuff where we had some success with. Here is how we can try to ramp our defense up while still not fouling and putting ourselves out there fouling wise.’ We’ll see if it works.”

On if Manning is off the minute restriction and how much can he give to the team …

“Well, we’ll see. He’s up and down. He’s got to get back in shape. He’s not in the playing shape he was before he was injured. We’re going to certainly play him as much as we need to.”

On if Manning has turned into more of an offensive player and can help offensively …

“Well you know he’s one of our better perimeter shooters statistically. Him and Marlon (Taylor) are two of our best perimeter shooters. They’re also two of our better defenders. I thought Marlon played well the other night. I thought Marlon has played a lot more good games than he has poor games. We need to maneuver him back in there a little bit more. Get him going and get him confident. I’m ready to make some moves with Marlon and make sure we’re putting him in the best position to help our team. I think he’s got some really good stuff that I think can help with our team. Particularly as it relates to some of our defensive issues. I think Charles (Manning) does the same. Marlon, he’s a lot better offensive player this year than he was last year. That certainly helps. Last year we were just relying on him cutting and a bunch of different things like that. He can certainly make shots and he’s worked hard on that. He’s a little bit better off the bounce and can do a few more things. We really need his defense and rebounding. I’ve said it a million times, the two or three plays a game that he makes that nobody else can make. We need to get back to getting those consistently from him and Manning. Both good players.”

On if having Charles and Marlon will get them a defense they can hang their hat on …

“Hope so. That’s part of it. We just got to get better positionally. Right now you’re working in the margins. We’re not trying to overhaul everything. If we don’t give up the ball side threes, we beat Alabama and Kentucky. If we can just get the ball side three. That doesn’t mean they’re not going to score on that position so it’s not quite that simple. If we just don’t give up ball side threes and make them have to throw it two times to shoot a wide open three as opposed to one time. That gives our defense a fighting chance. That’s what a good defense does, make you pass it and pass it one more time. We’ve got to make you work a little bit more. It’s because our rotations are coming from the wrong spot. We’re supposed to inside rotate. We rotate off the ball side. There’s a lot of stuff like that. Simplistically, if we could get that fixed that would probably save us six points a game, just that alone. That’s not even talking about our on ball defense and our foot angles and all sorts of other stuff that’s just in the weeds. If we could get better at that if would save us. You’re always going to have mistakes there, if we could save us one possession each on those two things that’s another four points. So there’s ten points right there. If you take ten points off the other team’s score then we would probably win a lot of games. You’re just working in the margins. I’m trying to say, here is where our problems are, what the most easily fixable of the issues.”

On expectations of Trendon Watford’s play…
“I think he has been fine. I think Watford is a really good player. He’s a freshman, he’s never had this type of resistance. Usually when things go bad, his talent could take over, but it is part of college basketball. He has been phenomenal all year, for him to have the year he has had as a freshman. We’ve needed him. We are counting on him. Keion Brooks is playing 12 minutes a game for Kentucky and he was a five-star McDonald’s All-American, the same stuff Watford was and Watford is playing 30 minutes a game and doing a lot of good things for us. Trendon is very smart, he has one of the best IQs of the players I have ever coached. He is highly intelligent and he shouldn’t be making some of the mental errors he makes, but he makes them because he gets frustrated with his offense sometimes and it bleeds over to his defense. It goes back to why I try to coach offense a lot. That has been my theory. Every coach sits up here and says you have to be able to guard when you are not making shots. I think it is hard to get people to do stuff defensively if they are not seeing success on offense. I think Trendon was frustrated. (Kentucky) was physical with him. He couldn’t get his typical shots off. I think that led to him having some defensive mistakes that he wouldn’t normally make because of how smart he is.

On trouble scoring against Kentucky in parts of the second half…
“You have to bring (Nick) Richards away from the rim. Richards had five blocks. Three of his five blocks were on offensive rebounds. Most of the rest of the time we had him pulled away from the basket. He is like (Austin) Wiley at Auburn. He is just a menace in that restricted area. When he’s in that restricted area on offense or defense, there’s nothing you can do with him. He is a good player, he is in great shape, he’s big, he’s physical. (Kentucky) did a great job of anchoring him down there. We didn’t do a good job of showing him the ball. We wanted to show him the ball and get him to jump and create some angles that way. We just have to compensate. We are a little smaller, so we have different ways of compensating and we didn’t do a good job of compensating like that. In a game like that against Kentucky when you can’t stop them and they shoot 74% in the second half, if you’re an offensive oriented team, your offense needs to shoot 80%. So, you’re just much more reliant on your offensive mistakes. The biggest issue with our offense was at the end of the first half. The turnovers at the end of the first half is what killed us. We turned the ball over four times in the last three and a half minutes when we had a four-point lead. We should have been up eight to ten points at halftime and we were down one. That’s the stretch in my opinion that did us in.”