By CODY WORSHAM | Tiger Rag Editor
Will Wade’s 9-3 record in his first year as LSU’s head coach faces perhaps its toughest test yet on Wednesday.
No. 17 Kentucky (11-2) enters Baton Rouge on the heels of a blowout win over Louisville and a road win to start league play at Georgia. The Wildcats were the preseason favorites to win the SEC; LSU was picked to finish last.
“They’re the standard-bearer in our conference,” Wade said. “They’re as good as it gets in our conference. This is a tremendous Kentucky team.”
Wade met with the press Tuesday to preview the game (7:30 p.m., SECN) and highlighted some critical areas if the Tigers are to pick up a win in his SEC debut.
Battle on the Boards
The Wildcats rank fourth in the SEC with 40.2 rebounds per game, with five players averaging five or more boards per game. Nick Richards (6.0) and Wenyen Gabriel (6.1) lead the way.
LSU, meanwhile, grabs 35.7 per game, ranking 13th in the SEC. The advanced metrics are more favorable to the Tigers, who grab 36.1% of available offensive rebounds (20th in the country), but even there, the Wildcats have them beat, ranking 14th by grabbing 37.2% of offensive rebounds. Aaron Epps (6.3 rebounds per game) is LSU’s only player averaging more than five boards per contest.
“We’re probably not going to outrebound them,” Wade said. “We just have to keep it manageable. We can’t get beat by 8 to 10 on the glass. We’ve got to keep it manageable where we don’t get annihilated on the glass.”
No Pick 6s
John Calipari’s team excels on the break, posting an effective field goal percentage of 64.3% in transition, second in the SEC only to LSU. That’s a full 15 percent better than they are in the halfcourt, which means the Tigers must keep the visitors’ pace slow by protecting the ball and getting back on misses.
“We’ve got to run great offense,” said Wade. “We can’t have live ball turnovers. We can’t have turnovers where we throw pick 6s and let them get out in transition. We’ve got to run great offense, not turn the ball over, and take great shots so we can set our defense. They are the best team in transition offense we’ve played all year, and probably will play all year. They are absolutely elite in transition offense.”
Wade added: “We like to shoot a lot of 3s. If you miss a 3, the rebound’s coming off long. And when you play a team like Kentucky, that’s an outlet pass for the break. They’re gone.”
Singles and Doubles
The Wildcats, as usual, are supremely talented – if extremely young. They are the youngest team in the history of KenPom’s experience rankings, starting five freshmen. But all those Cats can ball – six were five-stars (Jarred Vanderbilt is injured and unavailable), and the player Calipari called their best after the Georgia win, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, was a high four-star.
“The bigger the game, the narrower the focus,” he said. “Just do your job. Do what you’re supposed to do. We don’t need out of body experiences. Kentucky’s going to make some ‘wow’ plays. We just need to do our job and do simple better. Singles and doubles. We don’t have to hit grand slams.”
Wade’s message to his team is to not focus on the stars, but instead focus on their own roles. He gives each player a ‘role card,’ which he declined to describe but can safely be assumed to be a card with their role written on it.
“Everybody on our team’s got a role,” he said. “I told them, ‘Go read your role card.’ Do your job. That’s all we need you to do. All the mundane stuff, that’s what wins these type games. We need strict adherence to our scouting report.
“If we do that, I feel confident we give ourselves an opportunity to get it done.”
9,Tai Wynyard,8,0,5.4,0.4,0.9,.429,0.4,0.9,.429,0.0,0.0,,0.3,0.3,1.000,0.8,1.0,1.8,0.0,0.4,0.1,0.4,1.0,1.0 [/table]