The LSU basketball team loves being in first place in the Southeastern Conference standings with eight games left in the regular season.
Loving it is one thing. Being comfortable is another.
The Tigers can enjoy their ascent to the top of the standings, which they achieved Saturday when they bashed Mississippi State and Texas A&M lost to South Carolina, but a narrow one-game lead doesn’t guarantee them anything — especially this week.
LSU will try to retain its spot atop the standings with two demanding games in four days — playing Wednesday at South Carolina, which won 15 consecutive games to start the season and didn’t lose until January, before returning home for a Saturday matchup with No. 15 Texas A&M.
It begins at 6 p.m. Wednesday when LSU (15-8, 8-2) tries to extend its four-game winning streak in conference play against South Carolina (20-3, 7-3) in Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, South Carolina.
“It feels great,” Tigers guard Keith Hornsby said of overtaking A&M for the top spot in the league. “We’re in a great position.”
Only seconds later, Hornsby, who poured in 25 points in an 88-77 rout of Mississippi State on Saturday, turned his full attention to the task at hand: South Carolina first, then Texas A&M.
“With me being the analytical one, I’m always looking forward and I’m aware of this tough week we have ahead of us,” he said. “If we lose our focus, it could be a one-week swing that could be very bad for us.
“At the same time, I like where we’re at. … We just have to be consistent with our play. With eight games left, we can never be satisfied with where we’re at right now.”
Guard Antonio Blakeney, who became only the sixth LSU freshman to score at least 30 points in a game when he poured in 31 against Mississippi State, agreed.
“We’re in first place, but we still have to take them one game at a time,” he said. “Before we started conference, coach (Johnny) Jones told us each game was a one-game season in the SEC. Right now, we’re 8-2 in our one-game season and South Carolina is one game.”
But it’s a big game, certainly a résumé-building game if LSU can pull it off on the road.
The Gamecocks, who are 12-0 overall at home, are 4-0 in the league in their own building.
South Carolina had an NCAA RPI of 26 on Tuesday; LSU was at 75.
“We know how important each game and how tough each opponent can be,” Jones said. “We know any given night in this league that anybody is capable of stepping up and getting a victory.
“I don’t think you can measure it based on who’s beaten whom. You have to really make sure that your team is playing well at the right time. Anything short of that, or less than that, puts you in jeopardy of having a setback.”
South Carolina is coming off a road win against a Texas A&M team that hadn’t lost on its home floor this season, including a 71-57 thrashing of LSU on Jan. 19, before the Gamecocks prevailed.
“I thought South Carolina did a great job playing throughout that game,” Jones said of Wednesday night’s foe. “They hit 12 3-pointers in that game. That was a good, efficient night for them.”
But LSU, which is 11-4 since both Hornsby and Arizona transfer joined the starting lineup, believes it’s well-equipped to handle almost anything at this point.
“Yeah, we’re definitely in position to do what we want to do,” Victor said Monday. “We have to continue to push forward to get where we want to be. If we believe in our coaches and in each other, we can go wherever we want to go.”
USBWA honors Simmons
Forward Ben Simmons was named Tuesday the Wayman Tisdale National Freshman of the Week by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association.
Simmons, who averaged 18.5 points, 11.0 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 2.5 steals and 1.5 blocks in two wins, was selected by CBSSports.com’s Matt Norlander in partnership with the USBWA.
On Monday, Simmons was named the Southeastern Conference’s Freshman of the Week for the fourth time this season.
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter, @MicklesAdvocate.