By CODY WORSHAM | Tiger Rag Editor
Mayan Kiir had a blast last week in practice. Armed with the thickest stick in the pile, he spent much of LSU’s prep time for its SEC opener against Kentucky swatting shots left and right, thanks to some additional extension in addition of his already long 6-foot-9 frame.
To prepare for the length of the Wildcats, the fourth-tallest team in country in average height, Tiger head coach Will Wade had his scout team play defense holding large, black sticks, blocking every Tiger shot that failed to account for the additional extension.
“As a player, man, it’s kind of hard,” said Aaron Epps, plenty long enough himself at 6-foot-10. “You think you have a layup, then, smack!”
The biggest beneficiary of the ploy was Duop Reath, who picked up his first double-double of the season in dominant fashion, scoring 24 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. Kentucky head coach John Calipari called Reath’s play “unbelievable.”
“He dominated us,” Calipari said. “Absolutely dominated us.”
Reath was ready. He said the stick work in practice re-focused his mindset. Gone were the soft layups around the rim that work against smaller foes. Replacing them were powerful dunks – Reath had three of LSU’s four.
“You gotta dunk the ball very time you go up,” Reath said of drilling against the sticks. “You try to lay it up, Kiir’s coming.”
Kiir, in particular, made the most of the tool. He’d rush to the pile to get the thickest of the bunch, said teammate Duop Reath, but he didn’t talk softly when carrying his big stick.
“He gets excited when he gets the stick,” said Duop Reath. “He loves those sticks. His are thicker, so he’s going to get every block with them.”
“Kiir’s dangerous enough without the sticks,” Wade joked. “You add the sticks, you never know what’s going to happen. But yeah, he enjoys having a 9-foot wingspan with the sticks. He’s pretty formidable.”
LSU didn’t work with the sticks on Thursday in preparation for Texas A&M (11-3, 0-2 SEC), though the Aggies offer perhaps an even better front line in lottery projected Louisiana forward Robert Williams and All-SEC center Tyler Davis. The two anchor a defense that ranks sixth nationally in efficiency, 13th in block percentage, and 14th in defensive field goal percentage. They outrebound foes by 9.5 per game, the best figure in the SEC.
“They make you take tough shots,” Wade said, “and they get the ball off the backboard.”
A&M should also be closer to full strength than it has been to start the league. One of the preseason favorites to compete for the title, the Aggies dropped their first two contests, played without the league’s best three-point shooter, D.J. Hogg, and without point guard Admon Gilder, who averages 12.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game but has missed A&M’s last four games with a knee injury. He should be back in the fold for LSU, and so could fellow backcourt mate Duane Wilson, who missed A&M’s last game with a back issue.
Their strength is the interior, though, and another big night from Reath would go a long way in helping the Tigers offset A&M’s bigs. He said he can recreate some of his work from Wednesday by maintaining the right mindset on both ends of the floor.
“If I come out aggressive, it doesn’t really matter the opponent,” Reath said. “If I stay aggressive, play defense, defense really gets me going. If I make a defensive play, it gets me going on offense.”
LSU wouldn’t mind a second Reath double-double, plus building on the two blocks he registered against the Wildcats. The only stat Reath says he cares about, though, is the final score.
“I just wanna win, man,” he said. “If you lose, it doesn’t really matter how you perform, to be honest. Last year, we lost so many games. We had guys who had good games, but we were losing, so it doesn’t matter.
“If you win, everybody gonna eat. Everybody gonna be happy.”