Charles Carmouche’s lower back remained stiff Monday, two days after a hard foul by Ole Miss’ Murphy Holloway sent him spilling hard on to the Pete Maravich Assembly Center floor.
No matter, though.
In his fifth season, any impediment would have to be extreme to prevent the senior LSU guard from slipping on a purple jersey at noon Thursday against Georgia in the Southeastern Conference tournament at Bridgestone Arena.
“They’re going to have to slice my head off or do something,” Carmouche said Monday. “I’m going to be out there.”
While it’s a tad gory, Carmouche’s fervor stems from looking on at Stegeman Coliseum in early January when guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope — the SEC’s Player of the Year — keyed the Bulldogs (15-16) to five-point victory that sent LSU (18-11) to an 0-4 SEC start.
That night, a bout of knee tendinitis rendered Carmouche inactive, seething as Pope racked up 22 points, including 10 in the final seven minutes of a win that served as a tiebreaker in giving Bulldogs the No. 8 seed in Nashville, Tenn.
“It was another game this year I had to sit and watch, knowing I could have been out there and helping my team,” Carmouche said. “That would have been my match-up. I’m eager for it.”
Not many of LSU’s colleagues share a similar gusto.
If anything, Caldwell-Pope, who averages 18.0 points and 6.9 rebounds per game, is a model of consistency and efficiency.
In 31 games, he’s been limited to less than 15 points only five times and ranks eighth in field-goal percentage at 43.6 percent despite shooting 410 attempts —or roughly 32.8 percent of the Bulldogs volume according to kenpom.com.
“We just really have to make some adjustments to him and try to keep him out of his comfort zone,” LSU coach Johnny Jones said. “He’s crafty. He’s excellent with the basketball in terms of his ball-handling skills. He’s a good passer as well, and I just think he’s a really tough match-up.”
It’s also necessity: Nobody else on Georgia’s roster posts more than 8.1 points per game.
The license to pull the trigger granted to Caldwell-Pope factors in to the challenge. Without a proven second scorer, it’s unlikely the flow of the offense will shift course, and the guard can simply rise and fire.
“It’s hard for your confidence level to go down, because you know you’ll be able to come back and shoot another shot,” Carmouche said.
“I know he’s going to be confident, and he’s going to come out firing.”
Yet Texas A&M notched a rare feat when they held Caldwell-Pope without a field goal in a 50-foul slugfest on Feb. 9 in which Georgia eked out 56-52 win.
Granted, Caldwell-Pope, 6-feet-5, 210 pounds, still scored 10 points — all from the free-throw line.
“He was the focal point for our defense,” A&M coach Billy Kennedy said. “We tried to double him off ball screens and really not let him catch it.”
Two weeks later, Arkansas, known for its traps and heavy pressure, mimicked Texas A&M’s approach and held the former Caldwell-Pope scoreless for 27 minutes.
“You’ve got to try and limit his touches. And to do that, you need people around him,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. “When he came off screens, we made him get rid of the ball and made it difficult for him to get it back.”
With Caldwell-Pope contained, the Razorbacks took a 39-30 lead before the guard cut for a layup with 13:31 left to play. Seven minutes later, Caldwell-Pope knocked down a 3-pointer to draw Georgia even at 48-48, followed up by another 3-pointer with 2:33 left to put Georgia in front 56-53.
Ultimately, it took a running, underhand floater from BJ Young with 30 seconds left for Arkansas to escape with a 62-60 win.
“He’s one of those guys where the ball seems to find him,” Anderson said. “His range is pretty unlimited. You can contain him for a while, but he’s going to make plays.”
On Monday, Jones’ statements were coy as to how LSU planned to hem in Caldwell-Pope. It’s clear Carmouche will start out on him, but how the Tigers might roll out double-teams in certain situations is unclear.
“Doubling and everything else is not out of the question for a player of that caliber,” Jones said. “With his ability to be savvy, he’s capable of beating the double teams or making the right passes out of it that can hurt you as well.”
And it might be that patience exuded by Caldwell-Pope than can be just as unnerving as his penchant for prolonged hot streaks.
“A lot of guys might not like to take a back seat role and just the game flow to them,” said LSU guard Andre Stringer. “He does that every so often. But playing against him, you’ve got to stay on top of him and our game plan.”
And Carmouche figures to factor in the plan to halt Caldwell-Pope.
“I’m going to eliminate him as much as possible,” Carmouche said. “If I do that, I think Georgia has no chance of beating us.”