Coming off two road wins in five days against Texas A&M and Arkansas last January, Will Wade thought his LSU basketball program was ready to take off.
Flying high after a 21-point wire-to-wire thrashing of Arkansas, which rarely loses at home, Wade implored his team’s fan base to fill the Pete Maravich Assembly Center for its next Southeastern Conference game against Alabama.
More than 13,500 fans showed up on a chilly evening in 2018, packing the arena to the rafters — but LSU failed to match their energy and enthusiasm and came out flat in an eventual eight-point loss.
That wasn't going to happen again Tuesday night.
In the Tigers’ second SEC opener under Wade, the plan was to be the aggressor and attack an athletic Alabama team that had beaten then-No. 13 Kentucky three days earlier.
With that in mind, LSU put together its best 20 minutes of the season in piling up a 15-point halftime cushion and went on to an 88-79 victory after Alabama fought back and trimmed a 19-point deficit to just four in the closing minutes.
Just before taking the court, Wade said he reminded his players of the mission when he referred to a sign that hangs in their practice gym.
The sign reads, “Chance Favors the Aggressor.”
In two games against Alabama a year ago, LSU basketball coach Will Wade may have felt like he was playing with one hand tied behind his back.
“We told them before we came out that we didn’t want anything timid out there,” Wade said. “We were going to be direct, we were going to be aggressive.”
With that, he made sure they understood just how they were going to go about taking down Alabama, which had won five consecutive meetings with LSU.
“If you plow over somebody and get a charge, that’s on me,” Wade said he reminded the Tigers. “But do everything you do and be aggressive about it. Don’t be passive, don’t be timid about it.
“Our guys did that,” he said. “We talked about it at halftime: just staying aggressive, just staying after it. I thought our guys did that.”
Forwards Kavell Bigby-Williams and Darius Days and guards Tremont Waters and Ja’vonte Smart were among the players who heeded their coach’s message.
They were the catalysts for LSU’s important victory going into upcoming road games against Arkansas and Ole Miss.
While Smart and Days did most of their damage in the first half to give LSU momentum going to the locker room for halftime, Bigby-Williams and Waters were in the second half when Alabama fought back late.
Smart and Days scored 11 points each and Waters added 10 points in the first half to provide the energy needed to grab that 15-point lead.
Bigby-Williams, who was in the starting lineup to combat 6-9 Alabama forward Donta Hall’s length, came on strong in the second half.
In two games against Alabama a year ago, the Crimson Tide was a matchup nightmare for an LSU basketball team pieced together by first-year coa…
After scoring two points and pulling down five rebounds in 11 minutes in the first half, Bigby-Williams added 12 points and eight rebounds in the final 20 minutes for a double-double with 14 points and a career-high 13 rebounds.
Bigby-Williams also had five of LSU’s eight blocked shots.
At the same time, he held Hall, who played just nine minutes in the second half, to seven points and six rebounds after shredding LSU for 20 points and eight rebounds in their last encounter last February.
“Kavell was the difference in the game,” Wade said. “(Hall) was our big problem last year and Kavell really neutralized him. Kavell did a lot of things that Hall usually does: block a bunch of shots, dunk a lot of balls and get a bunch of rebounds.
“Kavell winning that matchup was just critical for us; he was a huge difference-maker tonight,” he added. “We don’t win tonight without him.”
Meanwhile, Waters continued his solid play since he began three on the bench last month. He had nine of his game-high 19 points and recorded five of his seven assists after halftime.
Smart, who wasn’t in the starting lineup for the first time this season, was 3 of 4 from beyond the 3-point arc in the first half, as was Days, who also came off the bench.
The two freshmen scored 15 points each with Days' total a career-high.
“I thought Ja’vonte was tremendous. He played one of his better games,” Wade said. “Tre was Tre; it’s what we’ve come to expect. He did a nice job as well.”