The last eight times LSU has left Baton Rouge, it’s returned home empty-handed.
Trip number nine might be the toughest yet.
The Tigers (18-14), fresh off a grueling, emotional win over UL-Lafayette in the first round of the NIT, head West for higher ground in round two against Utah (20-11) on Monday night at 8 p.m.
LSU faces numerous obstacles in game two of the tournament: Utah’s Pac-12-leading defense, its grind-you-down offense, the distance from both Baton Rouge and from sea level of Salt Lake City.
There are also the internal issues Will Wade must deal with: an untimely prevalence of injuries, an up-in-the-air suspension, and flushing the emotions of a heated victory over an in-state rival.
“That was an intense environment,” Wade said of the ULL win. “That was the first time when it got hot in the kitchen, we didn’t run out. We’ve been doing that for certain points this year. When it gets real hot, we run out and hope somebody else comes and puts the fire out for us. That was the first time in a while we’ve stayed in there and fought the fire.”
Now the challenge will be taking that approach on the road, where LSU has lost its last eight after winning its first three true road games of the year: at Memphis and at NCAA Tournament teams Texas A&M and Arkansas.
“You’ve got to be able to do that on the road,” Wade said. “It’s one thing to do it at home. You’ve got to do it on the road. You’ve got to be able to overwhelm people on the road with your spirit, your connectedness, your intensity. That’s certainly been a major challenge for us. We’ll see if we can have any carryover and improve any.”
Salt Lake City is a tough place to play, and Wade knows from recent experience. His VCU squad lost its NCAA Tournament opener to St. Mary’s – potentially LSU’s next opponent in the NIT, should both teams win – there last year. Part of the reason the Tigers are leaving Saturday for a Monday game is to get acclimated.
“It’s a factor,” Wade said. “You can definitely tell. I’m a runner. I was running outside, and you’re a little short of breath if you’re not used to it. There’s certain things you can do, hydrating yourself and how you prepare. That’s part of the reason we’re going out there early. The other reason it’s a long flight. It’s a long way for us. We’ll make sure we’re hydrated. A lot of that stuff is mental more than physical.”
NEW RULES RULE
Wade’s a fan of the NIT’s experimental rules, particularly the four 10-minute quarters in place of the two 20-minute halves.
“I like the rules,” he said. “I really like the quarters. I would be all for adopting that. I like that. I thought the game flowed better. I think the game flows a little bit better. The first media in that first quarter is at the first 5, so you get off to a quicker start. A little more strategy involved at the end of the quarters. You can get a couple extra possessions in if you go two for one. I think it’s more natural breaks during the game.
“College basketball is the only basketball that doesn’t play quarters. High school, NBA, FIBA, women’s basketball. Men’s college basketball is the only sport that doesn’t do it.”
Boy, is LSU banged up.
- Skylar Mays has a broken bone in his hand and can’t practice, Wade said. He’s been wearing a soft cast until game day, when he tapes it up and guts it out. “There just isn’t much we can do,” Wade said.
- Tremont Waters had surgery for his broken nose on Monday and played Wednesday’s game with a headache. “He was still feeling some of the effects from the surgery, getting knocked out. He wasn’t quite himself the couple days leading up to it and certainly in the game itself,” Wade said.
- Aaron Epps can only practice every two or three days with a lingering foot issue.
- Duop Reath can practice “most of the time” with his own foot injury.
Then, there’s suspended forward Brandon Rachal, who will travel but whose availability is uncertain.
SCOUTING REPORT: WADE’S WORDS
“They’ve got a very good ball club, very good defensively. They were number one in the Pac-12 in field goal percentage defense and scoring defense. That’s very hard to do. They mix their defenses, play man, zone, matchup zone. Very, very well coached. Very very good team. The big kid, (David) Collette, transfer, godo player. They’ve got a versatile 4 man, 21 (Tyler Rawson), who’s going to be very difficult for us to guard, as we haven’t been great at guarding those types all year. The point guard (Justin) Bibbins is a transfer from Long Beach State. Small, but very quick. All Pac-12 performer. They’ve got a 3-man, 30 (Gabe Bealer), who can make shots. Their 2 guard, 5 (Parker Van Dyke), can make shots. Be a good team. Very good team. They don’t really compare to anyone I’ve seen, there’s no real easy comparison in the SEC to what they do or how they play. They’re a good ball club. It’ll be a big challenge for us, especially on the road.”
“In theory, if you look at the numbers, their rebounding numbers are as poor as ours. We’re basically the same. They’re 33.4 (per game), we’re 33.1. It’s pretty negligible difference. Who knows? We just gave up 21 offensive rebounds. I don’t think we can take anything for granted on the backboards. This is a team we have a chance maybe to compete with on the backboards. This is a team we can maybe stay close with on the backboards. I love their kid No. 3. He comes in and is an absolute terror on the backboards. High motor, all over the place.”
“They’re a very good defensive team. They change their defenses. They build a shell about 18 feet from the basket that’s impossible to penetrate. They do a really good job. They force you to take longer jumpshots. They can chase them down. Bibbins gets them going in transition. He’s small now, he’s like Tre. But he can get it and go. They feed it into those big guys. They do a good job of playing through those big guys. They do a good job of playing inside out, putting stress on your defense around the rim.”