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The CoachCal.com keys to victory: LSU rematch

The LSU Tigers (16-9, 7-6 Southeastern Conference) come to Rupp Arena for its second contest of the year against the Kentucky Wildcats (20-6, 10-3 SEC).

Introducing the LSU Tigers

The Coach – Former LSU player Johnny Jones, who played in the 1981 Final Four as a member of the Tigers, is in his second season as head of the LSU basketball program after spending 11 seasons as head coach at North Texas. An assistant to the legendary Dale Brown for 13 seasons, Jones has compiled a 34-21 mark in Baton Rouge, La., after posting a 190-146 mark at North Texas.

The Players – The engine that makes the Tigers go is point guard and Christian County-alum Anthony Hickey. An extraordinarily quick player, the 5-11 Hickey leads LSU in assists with 87 (3.4 per game) and steals with 46 (1.8 per game). He is also outstanding with the basketball in his hands, as he has committed only 26 turnovers on the season (1.04 per game), giving him a 3.3 assist/turnover ratio, tops in the SEC. In the Tigers’ 87-82 win over UK on January 28, Hickey recorded six assists and zero turnovers.

It’s 6-9 junior forward Johnny O’Bryant III who leads LSU in scoring at 15.4 points per game (he netted 29 points versus the Cats), while making 51.2 percent of his field-goal attempts. O’Bryant also leads the Tigers in rebounding with 7.6 boards per contest. O’Bryant’s front-court mate is 6-8 freshman forward Jordan Mickey, who puts up 13.7 points and 7.4 rebounds per contest. Mickey also leads the conference in blocks with 3.4 swats per game. Mickey had five of LSU’s 11 blocks against UK earlier in the year. Another deadly threat in the lane, Jordan connects on 56.1 percent of his field goals, second in the SEC. Andre Stringer, a 5-10 senior guard, is third on the team in scoring at 12.0 points per game. Like Hickey, Stringer is competent with the ball in his hands, as he averages 3.0 assists to only 1.3 turnovers per game, a 2.4 assist/turnover ratio, good for second in the conference behind Hickey.

The Schedule – Thus far the Tigers have posted a 16-9 overall mark, 7-6 in the SEC. In league play, LSU has dropped games to Tennessee, 68-50, at Ole Miss, 88-74 in overtime, at Alabama, 82-80, at Georgia, 91-78, at Texas A&M, 83-73, and at Arkansas, 81-70. Some of LSU’s top wins have come against Butler, 70-68 in OT, South Carolina, 71-68, Vanderbilt, 81-58, Missouri, 77-71, Arkansas, 88-74, and of course UK, 87-82.

The basics

What: No. 18/16 Kentucky (20-6, 10-3 SEC) at LSU (16-9, 7-6 SEC)
When: Saturday, 4 p.m. ET
Where: Rupp Arena
Game notes: UK | LSU
Preview: Against his nature, Coach Cal sprinkling in zone ahead of LSU rematch
Video: Cal’s pre-LSU presser
Video: Julius Randle, James Young looking forward to another shot at LSU

TV/Radio coverage

TV: ESPN
Radio:  UK IMG
Satellite radio: XM 85; Sirius 85
Online audio: All-access
Live stream: WatchESPN
Live stats: Gametracker
Live blog: CoachCal.com

LSU

Record: 16-9, 7-6 in the SEC
Head coach: Johnny Jones (35-21 at LSU)
Ranking: N/A
Nickname: Tigers
Player to watch: Johnny O’Bryant (29 points, nine rebounds in first meeting)
Series history: UK leads 83-25
Last meeting: LSU won 87-82 on Jan. 28

Three Keys

1. Handle the quickness of the smaller LSU guards – The Tigers boast two of the fastest guards in the SEC in Hickey and Stringer, something UK has struggled with this season. Making matters more difficult for the Cats, the speedsters are number one and two in the conference in assist/turnover ratio. UK’s guards must be mindful of guarding LSU’s perimeter players too closely because both Hickey and Stringer have quick first steps and have the ability to get into the lane, creating all manner of havoc for the Cats. At the same time, UK cannot sag too far off of LSU’s guards because both are capable of knocking down the 3-pointer, especially Stringer who is connecting on 40.2 percent of his long bombs on the year. When playing half-court defense, Kentucky’s interior help must be ready and the defensive rotation must be on time or risk the Tigers’ guards creating a multitude of scoring opportunities.

2. Crash the glass – Not unlike LSU’s dynamic backcourt duo, the Tigers’ big men are both at the top of the conference in key stats, with O’Bryant and Mickey averaging 15.0 rebounds per game between them to go along with their plus-50.0 percent shooting. As mentioned above, Mickey leads the league in blocked shots per game. O’Bryant is a physical player not averse to using his hips and behind to gain possession on the opponent, while Mickey is a jumping jack, hustling for every loose ball and rebound. UK must make a priority of hitting the glass with abandon for LSU will take advantage of soft board work, something the Tigers did in Baton Rouge, holding Julius Randle and Willie Cauley-Stein to a combined 11 rebounds. Kentucky must be physical with LSU down low, putting a body on any potential LSU rebounders, or the Tigers will wear out UK on the glass.

3. Value possession — LSU is tied for the league lead in steals per game with 8.5 while UK has 29 turnovers in its last two contests. That combination does not bode well for the Cats if their trend of committing turnovers continues today against the Tigers. While Julius Randle has improved in his willingness to pass out of trouble, he will still at times try to dribble in traffic or force the issue against multiple defenders, oftentimes resulting in a turnover. LSU will, like most other Wildcat opponents, double down on Randle on the catch, making Randle’s decision making with the basketball a key factor in today’s game. Careless, lazy passes have also cost the Cats of late, and the Tigers have the finishers to make Kentucky pay the price for lackadaisical passing. LSU is quick to step into passing lanes, and are generally strong anticipators of where the ball is going.

Key Matchup

Julius Randle’s production vs. Johnny O’Bryant’s production – Against LSU last time out, Randle had what may have been his worst game as a Wildcat, as the big fella scored only six points in 27 minutes of action. Randle was 3 for 11 from the field, snagged five boards and visited the charity stripe only once. Randle’s presence on the back board and the scoring column must be more profound if UK is to win today. O’Bryant, who checks in at just north of 250 pounds, is the type of player Randle, with his quickness and strength, must attack on both ends of the floor. Taking the ball right into O’Bryant’s chest on offense, eliminating the LSU big man’s ability to effectively defend. Defensively, if Randle covers O’Bryant, he must “body-up” LSU’s best big man, making him pass out of trouble. With 29 points against the Cats in their earlier matchup, O’Bryant had a career game in the late January contest; a reversal of O’Bryant’s fortune is needed if UK expects to keep its home record sparkling.

They said it

Coach Cal on Randle saying that the team was embarrassed by their play at LSU …
“I would imagine LSU is really motivated to play this one again, too. You know they outplayed us. Johnny O’Bryant was really good, but he wasn’t the only guy that outplayed us. They out-rebounded us. They outcoached us. They outran us. They got us in transition defense. They got us every which way to lose. The only reason the game wasn’t 20 (points) was because we made three 3s. Bankers – or it would have been a 20-point game. I’m anxious to see how we’ll play against them, but it’s not like they got worse. LSU got better. It’s going to be a hard game.”

Randle on what he remembers about that game and what LSU did to slow them down …
“It was a blur. Just the intensity and the fight just wasn’t there. It was embarrassing, but that’s why we get another chance to play.”

James Young on memories of LSU …
“It was pretty bad. We didn’t come out to play as well as we should have when we went there and we took them lightly. That’s something we’re going to give them a lot of payback when they get here.”

Trends

  • Julius Randle’s 25 points against Ole Miss was the first time since Jan. 14 when he netted 20 against  Arkansas. Over the last four games, Randle has nailed 22 of 35 shots from the field (62.3 percent).
  • Andrew Harrison has made 12 straight free throws over the last two games and is averaging 15.3 points per game over the last three contests.
  • Alex Poythress, in his last 26 minutes of play, covering two games, has scored just five points and grabbed five rebounds while taking zero visits to the free-throw line.
  • Over the last two games, James Young has made 5 of 12 shots from beyond the arc and 13 of 22 overall shots from the floor.
  • Aaron Harrison has six assists versus three turnovers over the last two games, but he has connected on only 4 of 15 treys over the last four games.

Team stats

UK LSU
Scoring offense 78.3 (33) 77.8 (40)
Scoring defense 66.5 (78) 72.6 (239)
FG percentage 47.0 (51) 45.2 (126)
FG percentage defense 39.6 (24) 40.8 (61)
3-point percentage 32.7 (230) 33.9 (189)
3-point percentage defense 29.8 (21) 36.0 (258)
FT percentage 68.2 (222) 67.5 (251)
Rebound margin +10.2 (2) +4.2 (52)
Steals per game 4.7 (319) 8.5 (16)
Blocks per game 6.4 (6) 6.4 (8)
Assists per game 12.1 (230) 14.7 (53)
Turnover margin -1.3 (270) -0.8 (242)
kenpom.com adjusted offensive efficiency rank 8 68
Kenpom.com adjusted defensive efficiency rank 39 109

*national rankings in parentheses

Individual leaders

UK LSU
Points per game Julius Randle (16.0) Johnny O’Bryant (15.4)
Rebounds per game Julius Randle (10.1) Johnny O’Bryant (7.6)
Field-goal percentage Dakari Johnson (59.7) Jordan Mickey (56.1)
3-point percentage Andrew Harrison (37.5) Andre Stringer (40.2)
Free-throw percentage Aaron Harrison (78.8) Andre Stringer (83.8)
Assists per game Andrew Harrison (3.5) Anthony Hickey (3.5)
Blocks per game Willie Cauley-Stein (3.0) Jordan Mickey (3.4)
Steals per game Aaron Harrison (1.2) Anthony Hickey (1.8)

 

The Wrap-up

Tip-off is scheduled for 4 p.m. with television coverage provided by ESPN. As always, stay tuned to CoachCal.com for complete pre-, in- and postgame coverage as the Cats look to even up the season series with the Tigers.