After going on the road and picking up a tough overtime win against Mississippi State, things won’t get any easier for the No. 21 LSU basketball team when they come back home to take on Auburn in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center on Saturday at 1 p.m.
LSU (18-4, 8-1 Southeastern Conference) will play host to Auburn (16-6, 5-4) which has recently found itself after a 2-4 start in league play with three consecutive double-digit wins at home against Missouri, Alabama and Florida.
LSU coach Will Wade made it clear that Auburn is a team LSU can’t afford to take lightly, even with the struggles they faced during the first half of league play.
“Auburn is so good,” Wade said. “They’re so fast. If we turn the ball over the way we’ve been turning the ball over, it’s going to be a full game that looks like that (17-0) run that Mississippi State had on us.”
LSU has turned the ball over an average of 17.8 times in its last four games, most recently committing 17 turnovers against the Bulldogs.
LSU committed 11 turnovers in the first half against MSU, six of which came during the less-than-four-minute span in which the Bulldogs went on that 17-0 run.
Wade said that has been the common factor in runs like that which have given teams like MSU, Arkansas and Missouri opportunities to build significant leads on LSU that have forced the young team to crawl out of significant holes late in games.
“We start walking on offense, and when we turn it over they get transition buckets,” said LSU guard Javonte Smart. “We’re not getting back on defense. We’ve been working on that in practice, trying to get better coming out early in the game with a better energy like the last few minutes of the game.”
Wade said they can’t afford to play lackadaisically like that against Auburn without paying a hefty price.
“They play so fast, they’re well-coached and they put pressure on you everywhere,” Wade said. “You can’t even get the ball inbounds against them. Baseline out-of-bounds, sideline out-of-bounds, they put tremendous amounts of pressure on you.
“We have a big task ahead of us to get ready for them in two days.”
One of the most intriguing matchups of the game will be that between the 5-foot-11 point guards in LSU’s Tremont Waters and Auburn’s Jared Harper.
Waters has been the lynchpin of this LSU team since the start of SEC play, averaging 20.1 points, 6.4 assists and 2.8 assists per game against SEC competition.
Jared Harper will enter the PMAC averaging 15.2 points and 6.3 assists with a 38.6 percent shooting clip from the 3-point line.
The two both do a good job controlling the pace of the game, and the one who comes out on top in the matchup will likely dictate the tempo.
“He’s a very fast, explosive shooting guard,” Waters said of Harper. “He can handle the ball. You can’t give him much room because he’ll pull up from the half-court logo and he runs the team pretty well. He gets out in transition, pushes the ball. He’s a great point guard.”
Part of Auburn’s recent success can be attributed to the return of 6-foot-11 center Austin Wiley, the team’s best post option who allows it to spread defenses out more effectively.
Wiley missed four games with a leg injury before returning to action against Alabama, and Auburn went 1-3 with him on the sideline.
Wiley averages 10.3 points, 5.9 rebounds and nearly two rebounds per game for Auburn in the 16 games he’s played this season, 11 of which he came off the bench.
“They were 1-3 without Wiley,” Wade said. “They have a big post presence, he gives them a shot-blocking presence. There’s a lot of things he brings to them that really help.”
He will likely go head-to-head with LSU forward Kavell Bigby-Williams when he’s on the floor.
Bigby-Williams has been one of LSU’s most consistent players when he gets significant playing time, tallying six double-doubles this season, five of which have come in LSU’s nine SEC contests.
“I’m hard-headed, but do learn,” Wade said. “When we play (Bigby-Williams) more than 20 minutes, we win. It’s pretty simple. We played him 17 (minutes) against Arkansas and lost. I didn’t play him enough against Houston. He just brings us a different level of rim protection, and he can rebound.”
WHO: No. 21 LSU (18-4, 8-1) vs. Auburn (16-6, 5-4)
WHERE: Pete Maravich Assembly Center
WHEN: 1 p.m.
BROADCAST: ESPN 2, 98.1 FM
KENPOM PROJECTED SCORE: LSU 80-79
NET RANKINGS: No. 17 LSU, No. 20 Auburn