On numerous occasions last season, Will Wade talked about how Kavell Bigby-Williams could have helped the LSU basketball team to three extra wins, perhaps four, if he hadn’t been sitting on the bench in street clothes.
Bigby-Williams, the 2016 National Junior College Athletic Association player of the year, had to sit out the 2017-18 season after transferring from Oregon and couldn’t help in games.
That didn’t stop Wade from dreaming about how the 6-foot-11 forward would have made a difference as a much-needed rim-protector for a team that finished 18-15.
There have been glimpses this season, but the best came Tuesday night when Bigby-Williams outplayed one of the Southeastern Conference’s top big men in Alabama’s Donta Hall, holding him to seven points and six rebounds.
At the same time, Bigby-Williams put together his third double-double of the season with 14 points and 13 rebounds and had five blocked shots as LSU successfully opened SEC play with an 88-79 win over Alabama.
The challenge will get even bigger for Bigby-Williams and LSU (11-3, 1-0 SEC) when they face Arkansas (10-4, 1-1) at 5 p.m. Saturday in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Wade hopes Bigby-Williams is up to the task for the second time in five nights against Arkansas and Daniel Gafford, a 6-11 forward who likely will be a lottery pick in the NBA draft this June.
Gafford, who thought about turning pro last season, is fifth in the SEC with 16.4 points per game and second with 9.6 rebounds. Coincidentally, he and Bigby-Williams are tied for fourth in blocks with 2.2 a game.
Even though Gafford had 12 rebounds in a 57-51 home loss to Florida on Wednesday night, he failed to score in double digits for the first time this season when he got just nine against the Gators’ sticky defense.
Wade knows that Bigby-Williams and fellow big man Naz Reid will have to be at their best, with Bigby-Williams needing a second straight solid game.
“Obviously, he played very well against Alabama,” Wade said. “We need him to play well in a tough matchup with Gafford. We need him to come through and play well back-to-back.
“He needs to continue to prepare well, focus on the little things, focus on the details, watch film, do the extra preparation he’s been doing that’s given him the opportunity to have the success that he’s had.”
Bigby-Williams didn’t make the trip to Fayetteville last season, but he did get to see Gafford up close when Arkansas came to Baton Rouge.
As such, he knows what he’s up against in Gafford, who threw down a season-high 27 points in a one-point win over Indiana on Nov. 18.
“Coach Wade always stresses the importance of playing well against great players,” Bigby-Williams said Thursday. “Going against him is going to be a great challenge, but I’m looking forward to it.
“Obviously, it’s a big opportunity for me, as well as the team,” he added. “It’s going to be a challenge on the road in a hostile environment.”
Bigby-Williams said he watch Gafford against Florida and also watched tapes of the Indiana and Western Kentucky games.
“I’ve watched him in a few games this season; I’ve become familiar with his tendencies,” Bigby-Williams said. “Obviously, he’s a very good player, and I’m looking forward to it. Hopefully, we can get a win.”
Regardless of what Gafford does, that’s the real goal for LSU.
The Tigers have lost nine road games in a row dating to last season, with the last win coming 367 days ago in a 75-54 blowout of Arkansas — snapping the Razorbacks' 11-game home winning streak going back to the previous season.
While Arkansas is just 7-3 this season in Bud Walton Arena after the loss to Florida, Wade is concerned about Gafford as well as guards Jalen Harris, Mason Jones and Isaiah Joe.
Harris, a transfer from New Mexico, runs the team from the point and has 92 assists and just 17 turnovers in 14 games. Joe, who shoots 43.6 percent on his 3-pointers, and Jones average 14.8 and 14.3 points a game, respectively.
“It’s the first time we’ve gone on the road with this group in SEC play,” Wade said. “It’s an opportunity. We’re going to have to be a lot more connected than our last away game (at Houston).
“We’re going to have to play with a lot more attention to detail with an understanding that everything matters when you play on the road when you play in that type of environment.”
WHAT: LSU at Arkansas
WHEN: 5 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Bud Walton Arena, Fayetteville, Ark.
TV: SEC Network
RADIO: WDGL-FM, 98.1; WWL-AM, 1350; KLWB-FM, 103.7
UP NEXT: at Ole Miss, 8 p.m. Tuesday
• Forward Kavell Bigby-Williams' 14-point, 13-rebound effort in LSU's 88-79 win over Alabama on Tuesday night was his third double-double in the past six games.
• LSU has won 12 of its past 18 games against Arkansas. The Tigers swept the series one year ago, winning 75-54 in Fayetteville and 94-86 in the PMAC.
• In a 57-51 setback against Florida on Wednesday night, Arkansas scored its fewest points at home in coach Mike Anderson's eight-year tenure with the Razorbacks.
LSU (11-3, 1-0 SEC)
Pos. Name Ht. Cl. Pts. Rebs.
G Tremont Waters 5-11 So. 12.9 5.6*
G Skylar Mays 6-4 Jr. 13.1 3.3
G Marlon Taylor 6-5 Jr. 5.9 2.8
F Naz Reid 6-10 Fr. 12.2 5.4
F Kavell Bigby-Williams 6-11 Sr. 7.3 5.1
G Ja’vonte Smart 6-4 Fr. 10.6 2.8*
F Emmitt Williams 6-6 Fr. 8.8 6.2
F Darius Days 6-6 Fr. 7.1 4.9
Arkansas (10-4. 1-1 SEC)
Pos. Name Ht. Cl. Pts. Rebs.
G Jalen Harris 6-2 So. 8.9 6.6*
G Isaiah Joe 6-5 Fr. 14.8 2.4
G Mason Jones 6-5 So. 14.3 4.9
F Adrio Bailey 6-6 Jr. 6.6 3.9
F Daniel Gafford 6-11 So. 16.4 9.6
G Desi Sills 6-2 Fr. 4.9 1.8*
F Reggie Chaney 6-8 Fr. 5.6 4.1
F Gabe Osabuohien 6-8 So. 2.6 3.6