It’s not every day college basketball players get an opportunity to go toe-to-toe against an athlete they grew up watching, but that’s exactly the kind of chance LSU will get when it takes on a Memphis squad coached by 15-year NBA veteran Penny Hardaway on Tuesday at 6 p.m. in the PMAC.
Hardaway made an impression on multiple LSU players growing up. Tremont Waters played against him during his middle school AAU games, Skylar Mays watched him growing up and he’s LSU guard Marshall Graves’ favorite player, according to Mays.
“It’s kind of overwhelming because he was so good and now he’s coaching,” Waters said. “I can only imagine how his players feel. But at the end of the day your idols become your rivals at some point. That’s just how I’m looking at it.”
Memphis plays a similar starting five to LSU with three guys who could play point guard in Tyler Harris Alex Lomax and senior Jeremiah Martin. They complement two big men in 6-foot-10 freshman Isiaha Maurice and senior Kyvon Davenport, a 6-foot-8 power forward who posted 30 points and 10 rebounds in Memphis’ season opener against Tennessee Tech.
LSU coach Will Wade has never met Penny Hardaway. But he’s taken a good look at his team, and he’s compared the incoming Memphis squad to the Arkansas teams of the mid-1990’s coached by Nolan Richardson.
Those Razorbacks squads suffocated opposing teams with stout defense, especially on the perimeter, and turned turnovers into points on the other end. Richardson called the system “40 Minutes of Hell,” and that’s what Wade is expecting from Memphis this weekend.
“(Memphis) plays extremely hard,” Wade said. “They press all over the place. They run a trap. They’re very, very aggressive on defense, and they use their defense to create offense. They push the ball hard.”
That’s worrying for Wade, who saw a lot of room for improvement in transition defense in LSU’s 97-91 victory against UNC-Greensboro.
Despite giving up just six fast-break points and five points off turnovers against the Spartans, Wade wasn’t happy with the looks LSU gave up in that game when UNC-G went on the run.
“The biggest issue with the 3’s the other night was the transition defense,” Wade said. “Our transition defense was… We’ve had better days on transition defense. We need to get that corrected, and quickly.”
Memphis’ most dangerous defensive weapon in its season opener came off the bench in Kareem Brewton who picked up five steals in just 16 minutes of play, but also committed four personal fouls in the process.
Starting guards Lomax and Martin did most of the work on the offensive perimeter tallying a combined 16 points and 8 assists.
LSU welcomes the challenge of playing fast with a high-powered offense that has averaged 95.5 points per game threw two games this season.
Naz Reid found his stroke from the 3-point line against UNC-G, as did the rest of the team as he hit 4 of 6 from beyond the arc and LSU finished the game with a 50 percent shooting clip from outside against the Spartans.
Waters has so far picked up where he left off last season with 30 total points this season while averaging 6 assists and 5.5 steals per game.
Mays and Ja’vonte Smart have also settled in on the wing with balanced play. Mays has averaged 10 points, 4 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2 steals while Smart has averaged 11.5 points, 5 rebounds and 1.5 assists in his first two games at LSU.
“We feel like we thrive in that kind of environment, especially with so many guys who can put the ball on the floor,” Mays said. “We can play at a pretty fast pace.”