It’s not exactly a trade secret that most college basketball teams know where their bread is buttered on both ends of the court.
The message is pretty simple to coaches who preach it: Attack the paint, protect the paint.
But subscribing to it and doing it are vastly different as the LSU basketball team found out when the Tigers started going off-script in mid-December.
Protecting the basket wasn’t problematic since No. 12 LSU has been among the top defensive teams in Division I all season, but its scoring in the lane began to suffer.
Tigers coach Will Wade had watched it since a Dec. 18 matchup with Louisiana Tech, but he reached the tipping point in a 70-55 road loss to Auburn in the Southeastern Conference opener — his team’s first loss after 12 wins.
Shooting the ball, particularly from beyond the 3-point arc, had become a problem and Wade knew he had to fix it after his team missed its first 16 shots against Auburn.
That ice-cold start included having all 11 long-range attempts clank off the rim, helping Auburn build an 18-1 cushion in the first 10 minutes.
“Getting embarrassed like that on national TV will open some ears,” Wade said Friday.
It did and it has helped LSU in a current three-game winning streak that it will take into a 1 p.m. Saturday matchup with Arkansas in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center (ESPN2).
After bouncing back with wins over Kentucky and Tennessee, LSU (15-1, 3-1 SEC) showed even more improvement in a grind-it-out 64-58 victory at Florida on Wednesday night and will look to keep it going against Arkansas (11-5, 1-3).
LSU, which averages 25.3 3-point attempts this season, took a season-low nine at Florida — half of what it launched in its previous game against Tennessee.
That’s just fine with Wade, whose team was more intent on pounding the paint against 6-foot-11 Florida forward Colin Castleton.
That strategy and execution of the game plan paid off handsomely; the Tigers got 42 of their 64 points in the lane and shot 50% from the field for the first time in league play.
LSU made just three of its long-range tries, but was relentless in outscoring Florida by 16 in the paint area.
In an eight-game stretch that ended with a nine-point win over Louisiana Tech, LSU made 24.5% of its 3-pointers in shooting under 35% from deep in each of those contests.
“It's not a coincidence, right?” Wade asked. “You take higher percentage shots, you shoot a higher percentage.
"We're going to need to take more than nine, but 12 to 15 is a pretty good little sweet spot. Of course, we have been (shooting) 12 to 15 in a half.”
That’s where he drew a line in the sand, or rather on the court.
“I was very animated about where I wanted to shoot the ball from, where I wanted our shots to come from, and how we were going to generate those shots,” Wade said of a conversation he had with his team after the Auburn game.
He admitted to not being happy after the Tech game, but his team was unbeaten at the time.
“When you win, I couldn't quite get my point across with the forcefulness I wanted to get my point across with,” Wade said. “So after Auburn, I think they were a little more receptive to my message.”
They certainly were against Florida.
He credited Eric Gaines for helping execute the game plan from the point guard spot in filling in for Xavier Pinson, who'll likely miss a second consecutive game with a sprained knee.
“Give our guys credit, Eric Gaines and those guys, they carried out the game plan very, very well,” Wade said. “They did a tremendous job. … Those guys did a great job.”