By CODY WORSHAM | Tiger Rag Editor
Fresh off a 97-84 home win over UNC-Wilmington on Sunday, LSU (5-2) is back in action Wednesday in a 8 pm home tip-off against a hot Houston squad. The Cougars (8-1), led by head coach Kelvin Sampson and high-scoring guard Rob Gray (21.6 PPG, 51% FG, 49% 3FG) have won seven straight, including a 91-65 drubbing of red hot Arkansas in Houston earlier this season.
Here are three things to know heading into the matchup.
1. Success with Sims
His individual numbers aren’t fantastic, but quietly, Wayde Sims has emerged as an integral piece to Will Wade’s squad.
The sophomore is averaging 7.7 points and 3.9 rebounds in 21 minutes a game, locking down, for now, the 4 spot in LSU’s lineup.
His contributions exceed his output. LSU, acccording to Open Look Analytics, is plus-32 per 100 possessions when Sims plays and minus-11 when he doesn’t play, a team-high 43-point margin of impact.
“He is a key part to what we do and we are not nearly as good when he is not on the court,” Wade says. “You can see that with your eyes. The numbers and advanced analytics certainly back all that up. He is always in the right place, always where he needs to be on the court. He has a good understanding of what other guys need to do as well. Very pleased with him.”
Sims’ emergence has served as a surprise of sorts for Wade, who wasn’t sure how much of an impact the Baton Rouge native would have when he took the job in the spring. Wade said he was as hard on Sims as anyone when he arrived, but noted that Sims “held up.”
“I tell our guys to be good at all the things that take no talent,” Wade says. “He is excellent at that stuff. Now he has some talent too, don’t read into that he is not talented. You can control that stuff. Be great at the stuff that takes no talent. He is really good at that.”
2. Good for Two
Sims has seen his 3-point numbers dip (17.6 percent) early this season after knocking down more than 40 percent of his deep attempts a year ago. He said he’s confident that will return to a better figure – he’s making 300 3s every day before practice.
But he has remained one of LSU’s best finishers at the rim, shooting 66.7 percent inside the arc, part of LSU’s nation-best number from two (63.7 percent). Sims says it’s part of Wade’s philosophy on what qualifies as a good shot.
“Coach Wade doesn’t emphasize mid range jump shots,” Sims says. “If we get inside the 3 he wants us to get a layup, get fouled.”
Sims has bought into that philosophy as much as anyone. Last year, 43 percent of his shots were two-point jumpers. That’s down to 18 percent this year, meaning he’s focusing more on high-value attempts and weeding out low-percentage shots.
“We think our guys understand what a good shot is and where we want to shoot the ball,” says Wade. “I am happy about our two-point percentage. A lot of it comes too from we don’t take a lot of long twos. We don’t take twos really from outside 12 feet. Anything outside 12 feet for us is pretty much a three. We try to limit our long twos which are the lowest percentage shot you can take. We do a pretty good job of limiting those and getting to the front of the rim.”
According to Hoop-Math.com, LSU is taking about 26 percent of its shots as 2-point numbers, a little less than the national average, but is making 49 percent of those attempts, the best mark in the country. They’re also seventh in field goal percentage at the rim, making 75 percent of their shots near the goal.
LSU’s best finisher? Skylar Mays, who has hit 88.9 percent of his at-rim attempts, a phenomenal figure for a guard.
3. Guarding Gray
LSU fans know Gray by now. The senior has averaged 25.0 points per game in two contests against the Tigers the last two seasons. He comes into Wednesday’s game ranked fifth in the nation in offensive rating (133.0) and, Wade says, is particularly dangerous late in games.
“In the last four or five minutes in games, he is the only guy they have that shoots,” says Wade. “He makes almost everything late in the game. That is a big time skill to have. When everyone in the gym knows that you are going to shoot and you are still the guy that gets the shot off every time and make it a vast majority of the time, which is a huge trait to have.”
Gray isn’t the only weapon Houston has. Lafayette guard Corey Davis, who LSU recruited hard in the spring, is scoring 10 points per game and shooting over 40 percent from three, while Indiana transfer Devin Davis (13.1 PPG, 7.4 RPG) is a sturdy 6-7 forward inside.
“They are big; they are physical,” Wade says. “They are the best team we will play since we got back from Maui, probably since we played Notre Dame. It will be a big challenge for us. We have to continue to prepare well, give ourselves an opportunity to win in the last six minutes.”