The LSU basketball team will once again look to put a season-defining win in the rear-view mirror Tuesday evening when it hosts Texas A&M at 8 p.m. in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
The Tigers (22-5, 12-2 Southeastern Conference) can earn the top seed in the SEC Tournament if they win their last four games, the first of which they should be heavily favored in as they take on a squad of Aggies (12-14, 5-9) who they handled pretty easily with a 72-57 victory on the road on Jan. 30.
But it’s in games LSU has been heavily favored in that it’s seemed to have struggled the most in, especially during a conference slate in which double-digit victories have been in short supply.
“Our problem hasn’t been getting up for the big games,” said LSU coach Will Wade. “We’ve gotten up for the big games. Our problem has been taking care of business against people at home. That’s been the issue. When the popcorn’s popping and the lights are shining, we’ve been pretty good when it’s packed.
“We have a new challenge ahead of us Tuesday night when we play a very good A&M team, a team that we beat the first time.”
Wade attributed LSU’s success in the first game between the two teams to the Tigers’ ability to shut down junior guard Wendell Mitchell, the Aggies’ biggest threat offensively.
Mitchell shot 1-for-8 from the field for just two points in that game, while Tremont Waters went off for one of his best performances of the year in which he shot 11-for-18 from the field and 6-for-10 from the 3-point line for a season-high 36 points.
Wade views those two performances as ones he can’t count on happening again, so he’s far from comfortable going into Tuesday night’s game, especially considering the Aggies have won four of their last five games.
“We did a great job on their best player, and you can’t necessarily count on that,” Wade said. “And Tremont had a career night going for 36 points.”
Wade particularly can’t count on 36 from Waters because it’s still uncertain whether he will be available to play.
Waters missed the Tennessee game due to an undisclosed illness that apparently warranted an IV the day before in an attempt to get him healthy for the contest.
Wade said Waters’ status has been improving, but he had to get cleared by doctors before he would even be able to practice on Monday.
“He’s certainly doing better,” Wade said. “He was doing better yesterday and he’s better today. We’ll get him checked out, but he is definitely progressing. Whether or not he progresses enough to where he can play tomorrow night, I’m not sure, but he’s definitely progressing.”
That was the first game Waters has missed since arriving at LSU. He leads the Tigers in scoring and assists averaging 15.7 points and 5.9 dimes per game.
The Tigers will once again be tasked with trying to slow down Mitchell, who leads the Aggies with 13.4 points per game. He’s also good for 2.3 assists and 1.7 steals per game.
Waters was the only LSU player to earn a double-digit scoring tally, with the night highest scoring totals coming from Marlon Taylor, Naz Reid and Kavell Bigby-Williams who all had seven points apiece.
Wade said the Tigers will have to find a way to spread the offense around more this time around in order to keep its hold in the SEC Championship race.
“Every game from here on out is going to be a big game,” Wade said. “Every game will have high stakes and a lot on the line. We have to be ready to go. Everybody’s playing for something at this point, you can throw the records out. Texas A&M’s playing for a bye, so everybody has something to play for. We have to make sure we stay hungry and desperate, and make sure we play with great purpose.”
Who: No. 13 LSU vs. Texas A&M
When: Tuesday, Feb. 26, 8 p.m.
Where: Pete Maravich Assembly Center (13,500)
Broadcast: ESPN2, 98.1 FM
NET Rankings: No. 14 LSU, No. 68 Texas A&M
KenPom Prediction: 82-70 LSU