When the Southeastern Conference basketball schedule was released in late August, it didn’t take long for first-year LSU coach Will Wade to get to his welcoming gift.
There, at the top of the Tigers’ 18-game slate was a home date with 2017 regular-season and tournament champion Kentucky — picked to claim the league title again — and back-to-back road games with Texas A&M and Arkansas. And they're all in an eight-day stretch.
All three teams are in the latest AP Top 25 poll released Monday.
“I guess the SEC knew I was the new guy,” Wade joked Tuesday at his monthly Tipoff Luncheon. “It was like, ‘Welcome, young fella; let’s see what you can do.’ But it’s what we signed up for.”
It doesn’t make the task any easier, however.
LSU (9-3) will get to see how it measures up with the rest of the league in a hurry, starting with Wednesday’s 7:30 p.m. matchup with No. 17 Kentucky (11-2, 1-0 SEC) in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
Wade certainly is embracing the challenge. Minutes after his team stretched its winning streak to three games with a 71-61 victory at Memphis on Thursday night, he was eager to jump right into SEC play.
“If you don’t like this, go play intramurals,” he said when asked about the matchup with Kentucky. “We play in the SEC, and it’s time to rock and roll.”
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At the same time, Wade knows his team’s limitations and knows what the Tigers must do in order to have a chance against a long Kentucky team that’s coming to the PMAC a bit miffed.
The Wildcats, who’ve had some issues with consistency, dropped one spot in the latest AP rankings despite a 29-point blowout of Louisville on Friday and a 66-61 victory against Georgia just two days later.
“I said, ‘Either (the voters) don’t think you guys are that good, or they don’t think I can coach,’ ” UK coach John Calipari said he told his team. “ ‘Or how about this one: Maybe it’s both. They don’t think I can coach or you can play. Use it as fuel.’ ”
With Calipari putting together another talented starting lineup of five freshmen with a sixth first-year player coming off the bench, Wade probably believes the Hall of Fame coach didn’t need to give his team any more motivation.
Five of Calipari’s six freshmen average better than 10.0 points per game, and four of the six get at least 5.2 rebounds per game. His top point guards are averaging 4.2 and 3.5 assists, respectively.
“We can’t match them acrobatic play for acrobatic play,” Wade said. “We’re not going to. They’ve got world-class athletes and world-class length.
“We’ve just got to do all the simple things. You can make simple plays, make easy plays, and if you do those it’s still two points at the end of the day. ... We have to do all the simple things and finish plays around their length at the rim.”
That’s why Wade has been impressing on his players since they returned to practice Saturday about the importance of being focused on the task at hand.
“The bigger the game, the narrower the focus,” Wade said of his message to the Tigers. “You have to hone in on doing what you’re supposed to do. Everyone on our team has a role, and I told them to read their role card.
“All we need you to do is do your job. Do it completely and stick with our plan. All the mundane stuff wins these type of games, or it puts you in a position to win these games.”
Brandon Sampson, Skylar Mays and Tremont Waters all repeated Wade’s mantra Tuesday.
“The only thing we can do is worry about our game,” Sampson said. “We need to play and do the things we need to do. People get caught up on the name, but we have to focus on our play, because we can’t match big play for big play.”
Added Wade, with a smile: “If they all mentioned it, that means something. We’ve been pounding it, so it’s good that they figured it out. That’s good.”
WHAT: Kentucky at LSU
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday
WHERE: Pete Maravich Assembly Center
TV: SEC Network
RADIO: WDGL-FM, 98.1; WWL-AM, 1350; KLWB-FM, 103.7
UP NEXT: at Texas A&M, 1:15 p.m. Saturday (SEC Network)
• LSU made a season-high 13 3-point field goals at Memphis on Thursday, tying the fourth-most in school history.
• Kentucky is second in the SEC in 3-point field-goal defense, holding its opponents to 29.4 percent from long range.
• The Wildcats have already taken 324 free throws, second in the SEC behind Alabama (330), in its first 13 games.
Kentucky (11-2, 1-0 SEC)
Pos. Name Ht. Cl. Pts. Rebs.
G Quade Green 6-0 Fr. 10.8 3.5*
G Hamidou Diallo 6-5 Fr. 14.9 5.2
F PJ Washington 6-7 Fr. 10.0 5.2
F Kevin Knox 6-9 Fr. 14.5 5.6
F Nick Richards 6-11 Fr. 7.5 6.0
G Shai Gilgeous-Alexander 6-6 Fr. 11.6 4.2*
F Wenyen Gabriel 6-9 So. 6.6 6.1
F Sacha Killeya-Jones 6-10 So. 4.1 3.8
LSU (9-3, 0-0 SEC)
Pos. Name Ht. Cl. Pts. Rebs.
G Tremont Waters 5-11 Fr. 17.1 6.4*
G Skylar Mays 6-4 So. 12.8 4.3
G Daryl Edwards 6-3 Jr. 6.6 1.6
F Aaron Epps 6-10 Sr. 9.9 6.3
F Duop Reath 6-11 Sr. 11.9 4.7
G Brandon Sampson 6-5 Jr. 9.8 3.3
F Wayde Sims 6-6 So. 7.5 4.2
G Randy Onwuasor 6-3 Sr. 4.9 1.9