The eyeball test and the stats confirm the same thing: Tremont Waters has to be on the floor as much as possible for LSU.
When LSU (12-7, 3-4 SEC) heads to No. 19 Auburn (18-2, 6-1 SEC) for a 5 p.m. Saturday tip, Will Wade’s goal with his freshman point guard, who averages team highs in points (15.7), assists (6.0), and steals (2.5) will be to squeeze as much juice out of him as possible while stealing as much rest as possible, too.
Through seven league games, Waters is playing 35.3 minutes per game, fourth-highest in the conference and tops among freshmen. According to Open Look Analytics, Waters has played 429 of LSU’s offensive possessions in the SEC, resting just 45.
Against Texas A&M, a 77-65 win in which Waters scored 15 points with 9 assists and 8 steals, Waters played 36 minutes. The extra day off from Tuesday’s tip to Saturday’s should help Waters return with equal or better energy at Auburn.
“We did a little bit of a better job (against A&M),” said Wade. “We managed him around a couple of the media timeouts. We’ll try to steal a few more minutes rest without him not being on the court.”
Waters looked fresher against the Aggies, with enough energy late to bury a 35-footer that ice the win. His defensive activity sagging off of Duane Wilson to dig on A&M’s post players keyed a Tiger defense that forced 20 turnovers.
He also did this at the end of the game. pic.twitter.com/ZytpETR5Zh
— Cody Worsham (@CodyWorsham) January 27, 2018
“I thought he prepared his body well for the game,” said Wade. “He felt better going into the game. He’s who we got. We’re going to play him.”
One area the toll of heavy-minutes has affected Waters most is shooting. He shot 48 percent from the floor and 45 percent from 3 before SEC play, but in the seven SEC match ups, those figures are at just 38 percent and 28 percent, respectively. He was 5-of-14 from the floor and 1-of-4 from 3 against the Aggies.
Onwuasor Starting Again
Wade said he’s likely to start grad transfer Randy Onwuasor again at Auburn after his effort against A&M. He remains LSU’s leader in plus-minus in SEC contests and is a key reason the Tigers rank second in the SEC in defensive efficiency.
”He’s just got a little savviness to him,” said Wade. “He’s an older, more mature guy. He played for Tubby Smith at Texas Tech, who’s one of the best defensive coaches in the country.
“(Brandon) Rachal has the same thing. Rachal’s high school coach, Micah Coleman, did a great job with him. He’s got the same advanced level of understanding of defense, defensive concepts, rotations, help.”
Rachal ranks second on the team in plus-minus for SEC games. He too has been critical as the Tigers have turned around their defense since an 83-82 loss to Stephen F. Austin in December. Since the loss, LSU is giving up just 64.4 points per game in its last nine, after giving up 79 per game in its first nine.
“The reason our defense is better is we’re not giving up a bunch of 3s,” Wade said. “Our two-point numbers aren’t great. We still foul a little too much. We give up quite a lot of offensive rebounds. But the whole basis of our defense being a little more efficient is we create a lot of steals, we force some turnovers, and we guard the 3-point line pretty well.”
“I know we give up some open 3s, but we give up open 3s to guys…it’s by design. Problem is, there’s nobody against Auburn who we can give an open 3 to.”
Auburn shoots 38 percent as a team from 3, led by Bryce Brown (40%)and Jared Butler (42%).
Mays at the Rim
One weapon Wade hopes to restore against Auburn, an elite shot blocking team, is Skylar Mays’ ability to attack the rim.
No Tiger has been better getting into the paint than Mays, who has taken a team-high 77 shots at the rim. But whereas he wasn’t knocking them down at elite levels in the non-conference, he’s struggled to finish since league play started.
Not specifically layups, but Skylar is shooting 59.5% at the rim this season. Was elite finishing at the rim in non-con, struggling in SEC.
Non-con: 35-47 (74%)
SEC games: 9-27 (33%)
@ A&M: 1-3
@ Ark: 1-2
@ Vandy: 2-5
A&M: 0-5 https://t.co/CBEtDyutfW
— Cody Worsham (@CodyWorsham) January 24, 2018
“I’m fine with them,” Wade said of the shots. “He’s getting shots right at the rim. They’re good looks. He’s aggressive. He can get to the front of the rim. He’s putting pressure on the rim. We’re certainly working on finishing with him every day. We feel very good about him getting in there. He’s being very, very physical to get to the rim. It’s hard to get to the rim in this league. He’s doing that. He’ll finish them.”