Late surge helps push Texas A&M over Florida _lowres

Florida scrappy guard Chris Chiozza, left, will have to be a focal point for the LSU defense, which was subpar in Saturday's win over Arkansas, when the Tigers and Gators meet tonight in Gainesville, Fla.

Saturday’s solid shooting performance against Arkansas seemed to cure some of the LSU basketball team’s recent ills on offense, at least temporarily.

But defense is now a concern for Will Wade.

As he continues to navigate his first season with the Tigers, Wade can’t seem to find the perfect balance between offense and defense.

LSU started slowly on defense this season but was in the top 10 nationally in shooting accuracy. Then the Tigers started to play better defense — especially when Southeastern Conference play began in early January.

Following a 2-1 start in the league, the Tigers' offensive production and shooting went south for six games — until last Saturday’s big 94-86 win over Arkansas, during which LSU shot 52.7 percent, with a season-high 15 made 3-pointers.

After allowing just 64.4 points in a 10-game stretch, however, the Tigers have given up 88.3 points per game in their last three outings, losing to Auburn 95-70 and Tennessee 84-61 and beating Arkansas.

Wade knows that has to change when LSU (13-9, 4-6 SEC) meets Florida (15-8, 6-4) at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday in Gainesville, Florida.

The Tigers, Wade said Monday, aren’t going to shoot lights-out every night — especially from 3-point range — in their final eight regular-season games.

“We're going to have to play a lot better than we played against Arkansas ... our defense has to get a lot better,” he said. “Florida’s been a little bit up and down offensively, but we’re probably a pretty good remedy for the way we’ve been guarding lately.”

Florida has lost three of its last four, each of those defeats coming in SEC play after the Gators started 6-1. In those three losses, UF has averaged just 60.7 points per game since a 66-64 win at Kentucky on Jan. 20.

Mike White’s team has lost back-to-back home games to South Carolina and Alabama. In a 68-50 loss to the Crimson Tide on Saturday, the Gators had a six-point halftime lead before being outscored 41-17 in the second half.

“It’s all about LSU right now, and the Florida Gators trying to figure out exactly where we’re at, how we can get better, how we can rebound from a couple losses,” White said. “Alabama came in here and stole one on the road. They were terrific, and they really defended at a high level.”

Despite Florida’s recent scoring woes, Wade knows exactly what his team is up against. The Gators possess a talented backcourt of KeVaughn Allen, Egor Koulechov and Chris Chiozza, who leads the SEC in assists.

The three players combine for 38.1 points per game and account for just under half of Florida’s offensive production (78.5 points per game).

Throw in Jalen Hudson, who nets a team-high 15.7 points off the bench, and the percentage rises to over two-thirds of the team’s total scoring at 68.5 percent.

Koulechov shoots 39.5 percent from beyond the arc, and Chiozza — who’ll likely square off with Tremont Waters in a matchup of premier point guards — hits 38.6 percent from 3-point range.

That’s worrisome for Wade. According to his stats, LSU gave up 70 points to Arkansas in 25 minutes and 34 seconds of clock time; the other 14-plus minutes, the Tigers allowed just 16 points.

He cited poor transition defense and live-ball turnovers as being problematic when Arkansas piled up the points.

“We do that stuff again, it’s over,” he said, noting they can’t let Chiozza get out in transition. “It will be a major challenge, and if we don’t get drastically better in a lot of areas, it will be a rough Wednesday night.”

“Florida has some good veteran guards who know what they’re doing,” said LSU guard Daryl Edwards, who will start in place of Randy Onwuasor. “Just because they’re not shooting well right now means nothing, because they’re a well-oiled team. They’ve been ranked this year, so they know what to do.”

Game info

WHAT: LSU at Florida

WHEN: 5:30 p.m. Wednesday

WHERE: Exactech Arena, Gainesville, Fla.

TV: SEC Network

ONLINE: ESPN.com/watch

RADIO: WDGL-FM, 98.1; WWWL-AM, 1350; KLWB-FM, 103.7

UP NEXT: vs. Ole Miss, 3 p.m. Saturday (ESPNU)

Briefly

• LSU has six wins against top-50 NCAA RPI teams: Texas A&M (two), Arkansas (two), Michigan and Houston.

• UF’s Egor Koulechov (90.9), KeVaughn Allen (90.8) and Chris Chiozza (88.1) top the SEC in free-throw accuracy.

• Florida was ranked 23rd a week ago, but tumbled out of the AP poll after Saturday’s 68-50 home loss to Alabama.

Probable lineups

LSU (13-9, 4-6 SEC)

Starters

Pos. Name Ht. Cl. Pts. Rebs.

G Tremont Waters 5-11 Fr. 15.3 5.9*

G Skylar Mays 6-4 So. 11.1 3.9

G Daryl Edwards 6-3 Jr. 6.4 1.4

F Aaron Epps 6-10 Sr. 9.9 5.9

F Duop Reath 6-11 Sr. 14.0 5.5

Key reserves

G Brandon Sampson 6-5 Jr. 7.7 2.4

G Randy Onwuasor 6-3 Sr. 5.0 2.0

F Wayde Sims 6-6 So. 5.6 3.1

* assists

Florida (15-8, 6-4 SEC)

Starters

Pos. Name Ht. Cl. Pts. Rebs.

G Chris Chiozza 6-0 Sr. 12.3 6.0*

G KeVaughn Allen 6-2 Jr. 11.5 2.1*

G Egor Koulechov 6-5 Sr. 14.3 7.0

F Keith Stone 6-8 So. 8.2 3.9

F Kevarrius Hayes 6-9 Jr. 5.1 5.2

Key reserves

G Jalen Hudson 6-6 Jr. 15.7 3.9

G Deaundrae Ballard 6-5 Fr. 4.7 2.0

G Mike Okauru 6-3 Fr. 3.2 4.0

* assists

Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter, @MicklesAdvocate.