With finals wrapped up and the fall semester in the rearview mirror, the LSU men still have one major hurdle to scale before they start looking ahead.
Boise State drops by the Pete Maravich Assembly Center for a tricky 7 p.m. post-finals test on Saturday, the start of a busy home stretch for the Tigers.
LSU (5-3) plays seven of its next eight games at home, and the first one may be as tough as any in that stretch. The Broncos (8-1) are off to a solid start and bring a contrasting style to Baton Rouge that has the Tigers’ attention.
“Boise State is a good basketball team,” LSU coach Trent Johnson said. “Probably the most impressive thing from our standpoint is their passing game. They can pass and catch it, and they really shoot well. When you look at their numbers in terms of their shooting, it’s obvious that they’re a good basketball team.”
Meanwhile, the Tigers have flashed glimpses of being a good team themselves, and are coming off a productive week with two road victories. LSU grabbed a 59-58 decision at Houston before surging past Rutgers 55-50 last Saturday – those two wins coming on the heels of disappointing 79-75 overtime loss right before Thanksgiving.
Combined with a strong showing in the Charleston Classic early in the season, the Tigers have played better on the road than at home this season, which is encouraging for a team anchored by two sophomore starters, three freshmen who play major roles and a junior-college transfer.
“It does a lot for us in terms of we got the bad taste out of our mouth,” swing man Ralston Turner said. “We’re coming back home and last time it didn’t end like we wanted, so now it’s another opportunity to go out and play the way we’re supposed to and come out with a win.”
There are a few seniors on LSU’s roster, and one of those, Storm Warren, played a major role in the win at Houston with a pair of free throws with 1.2 seconds to go.
“Our confidence is already up there after winning on the road,” Warren said. “Now, it’s a matter of sustaining it. We have to learn to sustain the kind of energy we played with from the beginning to end.”
Energy, especially on defense, keyed the two road wins.
The Tigers limited UH to 39.1% shooting (9-of-23) in the second half and were even stingier against Rutgers after halftime, clamping down to the tune of 26.1% (6-of-23).
That loomed large because LSU didn’t shoot well itself in either game – which would be a concern if not for the stout defensive performances.
“Hopefully they understand the sense of urgency which we have to play with on the defensive end of the floor,” Johnson said. “Offensively, our shots aren’t going down, but you can win games and stay in games against good teams if you defend with a sense of urgency. You have to stay disciplined.”
“We’ve learned how to do what we have to do to win,” said Turner, who missed all five 3-point attempts he took at Rutgers, part of the Tigers’ dismal 3-for-17 showing from outside the arc. “Offense will come for us. Coach Johnson isn’t concerned with offense because that will come. We’ve just had to find ways to grind out a win in these last two games.”
Added Warren, “If we’re not getting anything to go down, we just make sure they don’t either. Our defense is what’s going to carry us this season.”
That may ring as true Saturday as any time so far this season.
Boise State arrives averaging 84.9 points a game, with five players averaging at least 8.1 points a game. Freshman swingman Anthony Drmic sets the pace with 15.6 a game and his 42.2% shooting from 3-point territory (27-of-64) is a major reason why the Broncos are hitting at a 42.5% clip as a team from beyond the arc.
|Drmic: Top scorer for a high-scoring Broncos team|
“We’ve got to limit transition baskets and then offensively we’ve got to make them guard us by taking good shots not quick shots, executing our stuff, setting good screens and getting the kind of shots we want,” Johnson said. “Go inside out and establish a post presence. We have to chase them off the 3. That’s what gets them going. It’s going to have to be a steady defense from start to finish in terms of running them off the 3-point arc. We can’t let them beat us at the point of attack and get all the way to the rim in the half court. We’re going to have to play a really good game in all aspects.”
Indeed, the Broncos aren’t simply a scoring machine. They are outrebounding foes by an average of 36-26.7 and are forcing 17.1 turnovers a game.
Boise State’s early-season resume includes a blowout against Utah (80-59), double-digit wins against teams from the MAC and Missouri Valley (twice) and a narrow loss to Long Beach State, which took Kansas to the wire earlier this week.
“They’re playing extremely well right now,” Johnson said, later tagging the Broncos as the best team LSU has faced this season. “It’s probably a good time for us (to play them), because defensively, we’ve found a way to get stops and compete at a high level. Boise is a basketball team that we’re going to have to defend and compete with at a high level for 40 minutes. Hopefully we’ll start to shoot the ball better. We’re getting good shots. We’re taking good shots, but the ball hasn’t been going down for us.”
Bass honored for academics
Senior Chris Bass was honored this week as one of 17 players from around the country recognized on the 2011 Academic Momentum Team.
The criteria included the player’s academic improvement and impact of his or her academic performance on teammates, advisors and professors.
“I would like to thank the academic support staff for all of their time and hard work they have put in towards me," Bass said. "I would also like to thank the coaching staff for giving me this opportunity to continue my education at LSU. I put my trust in God and worked hard daily to improve in grades so I could graduate."
Johnson said Bass’ honor meant everything to him.
“When you’re around kids as long as I’ve been around Chris, you realize how hard guys work,” he said. “For some guys, school is easy. For other guys, school is hard. When I found out the award, I addressed the whole team because that’s what this is about. Make no mistake about it. What it shows and what it says is that a guy is improving from his freshman year to his senior year.”
CHALK TALK: Boise State at LSU
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