It’s not exactly desperation time for the LSU basketball team, but making sure it doesn’t get to that point is certainly on the minds of the Tigers these days.
With three losses in its last four games, the most recent disappointment being Tuesday night’s two-point setback to top-ranked and undefeated Kentucky, LSU has seven regular-season games remaining to strengthen its NCAA tournament resume.
While the Tigers are projected to be in the 68-team tournament field at this point, they know they have some work to do before the start of the Southeastern Conference tournament.
LSU (17-7, 6-5 SEC) has to start playing with more consistency, and, just as important, a sense of urgency starting with Saturday’s 3 p.m. game with Tennessee (14-9, 6-5 SEC) in Thompson-Boling Arena.
“There’s not so much desperation, but the focus has to be at a certain (level),” LSU coach Johnny Jones said. “You can take a look at the schedule and find out what we need to do … and the success that we possibly need to have prior to getting into the conference tournament.”
Five of the seven games LSU will play over the next three weeks are against teams that are in the upper half of the SEC standings — including two with Tennessee — going into Saturday’s play.
With the number of opportunities dwindling, Jones admits his team’s hopes of reaching the NCAA tournament are fading.
“The window is closing to where we are going to have to minimize the mistakes we are making and the setbacks that you have,” he said. “We’re 11 (SEC) games in, and we still have control of our own destiny at the end of the day. But, the window is closing.”
Still, the Tigers remain upbeat about their chances despite the disappointment of not getting the job done in crunch time against Kentucky — failing to score in the final 3:52 with three turnovers, which helped the Wildcats escape.
They insist they took more than a loss away from the game, which will help them in the coming weeks.
“We played a great game against Kentucky, and we can take some of the good things from that,” guard Tim Quarterman said. “We’re very excited about the way the team played with a lot of heart and a lot of passion.
“We need to bring that type of intensity to every game. If we can take that to the next game, we’ll be able to build some momentum.”
That’s something LSU can really use considering they have to go to Texas A&M on Tuesday after playing Tennessee, which had lost four of five games before a stirring overtime win at Vanderbilt on Thursday night.
Games with Florida, Ole Miss, Arkansas and Tennessee — again — also await the Tigers along with Auburn, which upset LSU in Baton Rouge on Feb. 5.
Guard Keith Hornsby said it’s doable, especially if his teammates remember how they reacted after the loss to Auburn last week. Going back to work on a short turnaround, they responded two days later with a win over Alabama.
Now, they need another one like that.
“We have to remember that meeting and the practice we had after the Auburn game,” he said. “We have to remember that game we had against Alabama and it was the same thing for the Kentucky game.
“We can’t help but take some things from that game,” Hornsby added. “If we would have won, it would have been exceptional. But it didn’t happen and we can’t change it. But yeah, we can take away a lot of good things from that Kentucky game.”
A couple of days later, Jones said he was encouraged by what he saw that night.
“We’ve got to think that if we can challenge a team of that caliber throughout the rest of the season, then we have got a chance to do something special in this league,” he said, noting Kentucky counted Kansas, UCLA, North Carolina and Louisville among its victims earlier in the season.
“But we have to make sure we channel our energy at the things that are important to us now -- and that’s winning basketball games to get into postseason play; more specifically, the NCAA tournament.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.