With just three games left in the regular season, LSU controls its own fate as it competes for at least a share of Southeastern Conference title and the top seed in the SEC Tournament.
Nobody expected the Tigers (23-5, 13-2 SEC) to have this opportunity so late in the season, but after a stellar league performance in which they have taken down both of the SEC’s blue bloods in Kentucky and Tennessee, the pressure is on to finish strong and make history.
With so much on the line, one would think the pressure would be a near boiling point. But LSU coach Will Wade said LSU is looking at these last three games as if business is usual.
“At this point you want to be playing for something,” Wade said. “I think that’s all good. I don’t think it’s pressure. I think it’s opportunity. We were predicted sixth. I don’t think anybody thought we’d be in this situation. This is good. We have nothing but opportunity in front of us.”
The first of those opportunities will come Saturday morning when the Tigers take on Alabama (17-11, 8-7), and NCAA Tournament bubble team trying to make a statement before the season ends.
The Tigers have struggled in Coleman Coliseum since the rival’s start, winning 18 of just 87 games in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
LSU hopes to flip that script and stay in control of its own destiny with a rematch against Florida on the road and a season finale against Vanderbilt, which is yet to win an SEC contest.
After missing two games with an undisclosed illness, LSU point guard Tremont Waters figures to be back in his role as a starter Saturday against the Crimson Tide.
When asked if Waters would be limited on Saturday, Wade answered tersely.
“He should be ready to go,” he said.
Waters averaged 35 minutes per SEC game before missing time with the illness. Wade said they’ve tried to spin it as a positive by saying the break gave him some much-needed rest.
But ultimately, they’re just glad to have him back on the floor.
“You’re not as comfortable when he’s not in uniform,” Wade said. “He’s our safety blanket. When things go awry, he can do things no one else can do.”
LSU opened its SEC schedule against Alabama, and it defeated the Tide thanks in large part to shooting 10 of 15 from the 3-point line.
Alabama played well in the paint, with senior forward Donta Hall finishing with seven points and six rebounds, but Kavell Bigby-Williams earned his first of what is currently six double-doubles in SEC play with 14 points and 13 rebounds.
The Tide like to run and gun to get behind defenses in transition, so setting up LSU’s transition defense with good half-court play will be vital to the Tigers if they want to replicate the success of their 88-79 win back on Jan. 8.
“I said it last year, but it’s true: pressure is a privilege,” Wade said. “It’s good. We could be playing for nothing right now, just playing out the season. It’s a real positive for us.”
WHO: No. 13 LSU at Alabama
WHEN: Saturday, March 2, 11 a.m.
WHERE: Coleman Coliseum (15,383)
SERIES RECORD: Alabama 108-72
NET RANKING: No. 13 LSU, No. 48 Alabama
KENPOM PROJECTION: LSU 76-74