LSU will look to bounce back from a frustrating 82-76 loss to No. 24 Houston in a neutral-site match-up against St. Mary’s at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas at 10 p.m. on ESPNU.
The Tigers (7-3) saw a 15-point, second-half lead disappear Wednesday in the program’s eighth consecutive road loss as they struggled to adjust to the Cougars’ stout interior defense.
As a result, the next couple games on the Tigers’ schedule are paramount in building momentum before the start of Southeastern Conference play.
LSU has just three non-conference games left on the schedule before taking on Alabama on Jan. 8, and it hopes to use those games to garner momentum heading into the conference schedule.
A win against the Gaels (7-4) – winners of their last four games – would go a long way toward building that momentum before the Tigers come back home to take on No. 23 Furman.
The Gaels have had an up-and-down start to the season, but they’ve shown potential in a win against California and a close loss to then-No. 15 Mississippi State.
The mid-major with a penchant for earning NCAA Tournament berths has a dangerous weapon in junior guard Jordan Ford, who is averaging 22.9 points while shooting at a 51 percent clip.
In addition to Ford, forward Malik Fitts creates a dangerous one-two punch with his 41.5 3-point shooting percentage, meaning the Tigers will have to pay extra mind to the perimeter while in Vegas.
Fitts is exactly the kind of player the Tigers have struggled to defend this season: a long player at the 4 position who can score in the post as well as drain 3-pointers.
Standing 6-foot-8, Fitts is tall enough to force someone in LSU’s post to guard him. The most likely candidates are Emmitt Williams or Darius Days.
Williams missed LSU’s game against Incarnate Word on Sunday with a busted lip, but he returned to action Wednesday against Houston, playing 23 minute in which he tallied four points and six rebounds.
Despite decent size, the Gaels only average 33.8 rebounds per game and they average 9.5 turnovers per game. Part of that can be attributed to St. Mary’s methodical style of offense, but it does indicate the Tigers might be able to get some leverage in the post with guys like Williams and Kavell Bigby-Williams.
For reasons that head coach Will Wade has yet to discuss, the 6-foot-11 Bigby-Williams only played 6 minutes in which he scored four points – all on free throws – and a pair of rebounds.
LSU will have the athleticism advantage, but the Tigers will have to make shooting a labor for the Gaels, something they’ve struggled with at times throughout the early part of the season.
Saturday night marks the first time LSU and St. Mary’s have ever met on a basketball court.