On Tuesday LSU picked up its biggest win of the young Will Wade era when it beat No. 5 Kentucky 73-71 in Rupp Arena,
Now they hit the road again for a less appealing matchup with Georgia, but one that now has the weight of a potential Southeastern Conference championship connected to it.
Margin for error has ceased to exist for the Tigers (20-4, 10-1 SEC) as they now control their own destiny on its way to an SEC Tournament after taking down the Wildcats and remaining just one game behind first-place Tennessee, which LSU plays next Saturday in the PMAC.
But before that highly-anticipated and sold out showdown, the Tigers must take on the Bulldogs (10-14, 1-10) who have just won one game against Texas since LSU beat them 92-82 on Jan. 23.
“Every game is important, and every game is meaningful from here on out for sure,” Wade said. “We have to be locked in, we have to be focused and handle the details. We have to do a good job with all of that.
“Every game has a heightened sense of meaning. … The bigger the games you win, the bigger the next games are going to be. They keep building on each other.”
LSU’s guard play really shined in the first meeting between he two teams, with Tremont Waters tallying a game-2high 26 points on 7 for 14 shooting with Skylar Mays adding 20 and Javonte Smart adding 10 behind him.
Reigning SEC Freshman of the Week Naz Reid also had a good game in the post, shooting 11 fo 7 for 15 points to go along with seven rebounds, three blocks and two steals.
But Wade wasn’t happy with the performance, saying the Tigers’ transition and post defense lacked the urgency to slow down forwards like Nicolas Claxton and Rayshaun Hammonds who combined for 33 points.
LSU allowed 44 points in the paint against Georgia, and while the Tigers were able to match that number themselves, Wade said that won’t be acceptable against the Bulldogs this time around in Athens, Ga.
“If we’re going to compete for a championship, if we’re going to compete at a high level, there are some areas we’re going to have to get better at,” Wade said. “Our transition defense is a major area of concern for me. It’s going to get tested at Georgia. We gave up 44 points in the paint to Georgia the first time. You should see the shot chart. It was embarrassing. They had 22 shots basically right in front of the rim.”
In charge of making sure that doesn’t happen again will be Reid and Kavell Bigby-Williams, a 6-foot-11 senior who has found his role and played it well since the start of SEC play.
Bigby-Williams has averaged 8.7 points and 7.5 rebounds per game while shooting at an absurdly efficient 72.5 percent rate from the field.
Much of Bigby-Williams’ offensive production comes as a result of his propensity for grabbing offensive rebounds which lead to easy putbacks. 34 of his 89 boards in conference play have come on the offensive side of the ball, aiding the Tigers in averaging a +5.8 rebounding margin against SEC opponents.
Emmitt Williams, coming off one of his best performance of the season off the bench against Kentucky, also has a knack for getting offensive rebounds. He actually has more offensive rebounds than defensive rebounds, grabbing 28 after LSU missed shots and 26 after shots missed by the Tigers’ opponents.
“(Williams) plays with great effort, he plays with a great motor,” Wade said. “When you do that, the ball tends to find you. It just kind of lands in your hands. You have to make it happen. You have to make your own breaks. Emmitt does a great job of doing that.”
WHO: No. 19 LSU (20-4, 10-1 SEC), Georgia (10-14, 1-10)
WHEN: Saturday, Feb. 16, 5 p.m.
WHERE: Stegeman Coliseum, Athens, Ga.
BROADCAST: SEC Network, 98.1 FM
SERIES RECORD: 65-47 LSU
LAST MEETING: 92-82 LSU, Jan. 23
NET RANKINGS: No. 14 LSU, No. 128 Georgia