Just 15 days ago, LSU was feeling fairly spiffy about its basketball season.
The Tigers had won 10 of 12 games, including five of their first six in SEC play. They were on a three-game winning streak and a game behind unbeaten league leader Alabama.
Then, the Crimson Tide came to Baton Rouge on Jan. 19 and almost burned down the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, torching LSU for an SEC single-game record 23 3-pointers in a 105-75 beatdown in which LSU trailed by 43 points at one point.
Since then, Alabama is still unbeaten in the SEC and the Tigers have dropped 2 of 3 games. Even worse for LSU, it has lost junior Darius Days for two weeks with a sprained ankle (not a sprained knee as first thought) he suffered in Saturday’s 76-71 home loss to No. 10 Texas Tech in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.
Now, the Tigers (11-5, 6-3 in the SEC) have to travel to No. 7 Alabama for a Wednesday 6 p.m. rematch against the Crimson Tide (14-4, 9-0) SEC without Days, who averages 12.1 points and is the SEC’s fourth leading rebounder averaging 7.9.
“We looked at some different things (lineups) without Days in practice (on Monday),” LSU coach Will Wade said. “There’s a lot of things Days does besides rebounding. Our offensive spacing is different because the guys we’ve got to replace are him a bit more limited in their shooting (range).”
LSU can go small or big with its lineup in the absence of the 6-7 Days. It could turn to 6-6 sophomore Aundre Hyatt, a wing shooter and defender, or 6-10 225-pound sophomore transfer Shareef O’ Neal, who can score inside and out and is a relentless rebounder.
O’Neal is just now getting back up to full speed after spraining an ankle.
“We certainly aren’t to scrap what we do,” Wade said. “We’ve to make some tweaks and adjustments. It’d would be stupid to go in there (to Alabama) and do the same things we did last time.”
LSU freshman guard Cam Thomas remains the SEC leader in scoring (22.3 points) and in free throw percentage (89.3 percent) though his 3-point shooting has nosedived.
Alabama has four players averaging in double figures. The Crimson Tide leads the SEC in six offensive and four defensive categories respectively, but currently also has some players banged and bruised after Saturday’s loss to Oklahoma in the SEC/Big 12 shootout.
“It’s February,” Alabama coach Nate Oats said, “and in February nobody is 100 percent healthy. “You’ve just got to play through that stuff and figure ways to win.”