GAME NOTES: The LSU Tigers try to reach the .500 mark in the SEC for the first time all season when they travel to Tuscaloosa on Saturday night to tangle with the Alabama Crimson Tide.
After losing five of its first six conference games this season, LSU has inched up the standings in recent weeks thanks to three consecutive victories, with its most recent triumph coming at home on Wednesday night in a 57-56 decision over Vanderbilt. The Tigers are 13-7 on the campaign, but only two of those wins have come on the road.
Alabama was one of the league's hottest teams heading into its Wednesday night matchup, having won six of seven, but it dropped a 46-37 decision at Auburn in what was its worst offensive performance of the season. Despite the setback, the Tide are still in good shape at 14-8 overall, which includes a stellar 6-3 mark in conference.
These longtime rivals have squared off 168 times, with Alabama winning 101 of those meetings. The Tide had been winners of five straight games in the series before LSU claimed the latest matchup, 67-58, on Feb. 11, 2012.
LSU trailed late in the first half against Vanderbilt, but it was able to rip off a 16-0 run to close out the frame to take a 31-18 lead at intermission, and while the Commodores made it close again late, the team never relinquished that advantage. It was far from the Tigers' most impressive offensive effort, as they made just 36 percent of their attempts from the field, but it held Vandy to an even worse 31.5 percent. Anthony Hickey paced the squad with 14 points, seven rebounds and five assists, while Johnny O'Bryant netted 10 points and Malik Morgan and Charles Carmouche tallied nine points apiece. LSU is typically the SEC's sixth-best scoring team with more than 71 ppg, but it hurts its chances with the 12th-ranked scoring defense (67.9 ppg). Hickey leads a balanced attack with 12.5 ppg, and in addition to his scoring prowess, he is an outstanding perimeter defender with a nation-leading 3.4 spg. O'Bryant III tallies 11.8 ppg and 8.3 rpg, while Shavon Coleman (11.4 ppg, 7.2 rpg), Andre Stringer (10.9 ppg), and Carmouche (9.3 ppg, 3.6 apg) are also strong pieces to the Tigers' puzzle.
Alabama played outstanding defense on Wednesday, holding Auburn to less than 35 percent field goal shooting while forcing 14 turnovers, but after leading by 10 at the half, it lost control down the stretch and finished the contest shooting a woeful 28.6 percent from the floor. It was the Tide's sixth straight game scoring fewer than 60 points. Trevor Releford netted 11 points in the setback, while Rodney Cooper finished with 11 points and seven boards. Putting up points has been a big issue for Alabama the entire season, as it nets less than 63 ppg, but its success has come behind a fantastic scoring defense (57.9 ppg) that ranks behind only nationally-ranked Florida in the SEC. Releford is one of the league's best guards, scoring 15.1 ppg with solid percentages from the field (.473), 3-point range (.400), and the foul line (.862). Trevor Lacey is also an effective guard with 12.1 ppg and 3.4 apg, while Cooper chips in 10.7 ppg and a team-high 4.3 rpg.
LSU has the better scorers between these two teams, but Alabama's defensive pressure has been so good that it can make any squad struggle. At home, the Tide should be able to get back on the winning track.