This is the end. Or at least how the end will come for the LSU basketball team if the Tigers don’t find a way to shield themselves from teams like Florida, teams bearing Kryptonite-tipped arrows aimed right at the Tigers’ vulnerabilities.
LSU can hang with and beat the long, athletic, muscle-car outfits like Kentucky. Teams like themselves. But a bunch of height-challenged scrappers like the Gators, led by a bulldog point guard like Florida’s Andrew Nembhard (eight points, eight assists, three steals), those teams know how to align the tumblers’ on the Tigers’ vault.
Nembhard, speaking of height, is 6-foot-5 compared to LSU superhero point guard Tremont Waters’ realistic 5-10. For most of the game, Nembhard worked like a local anesthetic on Waters, who was only 3-of-12 from the field including missed 3-pointers at the end of regulation and to tie with about 12 seconds left in the extra five minutes.
Did you see it coming, Will Wade?
“Oh, hell yeah,” Wade said in a frank and borderline angry postgame news conference following Wednesday’s 82-77 overtime defeat in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
After winning three overtime games on the road in Southeastern Conference play, the LSU men’s basketball team ran out of magic Wednesday night.
“This is the same type of team Missouri is,” Wade said, referring to the team LSU somehow rallied from 14 down against with just over two minutes to play on the road before winning 86-80, also in OT. “Certain type of teams give us problems. We don’t have the stuff to beat some of these type of teams.
“We’re either going to develop it, or this is how our season is going to end. We have areas where we’ve got to get better or we’re going to get exposed. We know that. We haven’t improved as rapidly need to in certain areas.”
LSU would seem to need to generate the right stuff in a hurry with No. 5-ranked Tennessee coming to town on Saturday.
This loss coupled with Tennessee’s sobering 86-69 loss at Kentucky after LSU won in Lexington is like an icy shower on what has been rightly billed as LSU basketball’s biggest game in years. It still is that, though, with LSU (21-5, 11-2 SEC) tied for second with Kentucky a game back of the Volunteers (24-2, 12-1).
But for now this one had the Tigers’ grieving badly as they left the arena, muttering to themselves that it would not have gotten away had they just matched the Gators’ possession for fierce possession. At 14-11 and 6-6 in SEC play entering the night (albeit with an NET of 33), Florida was likely playing for its postseason life.
“They simply wanted it more than us,” said forward Naz Reid, who ripped the cozy blanket from his first-half slumber (three points, six rebounds) to finish with 16 points and a career-high 15 rebounds. “They’re a really tough team. I can’t say anything beside the fact they clearly wanted it more.”
“It was not the level of desperation we needed to play with,” said Skylar Mays, who exploited the gaps in Florida’s 1-2-2 defense others could not for a team-high 18 points. “You could tell in the first four minutes it was going to be a street fight. They got all the 50-50 balls. When it goes like that it’s hard to win.”
Maybe this was the hard slap of reality the Tigers needed. One doesn’t have to look back too far to remember LSU’s other disheartening home loss, 90-89 to Arkansas on Feb. 2.
As in that game, and many others of recent vintage, the Tigers fell behind and were forced to extricate themselves from the trench of dangerously deep deficits. They didn’t make it out against Arkansas, though, nor against Florida, though the most LSU ever trailed Wednesday was by eight points.
It is worth remembering that the Arkansas loss looked so ominous at the time because it came on the doorstep of arguably the Tigers’ toughest three-game stretch of the entire season: at Mississippi State, Auburn and at Kentucky. LSU swept those three games and tacked on another sweaty-palmed win Saturday at Georgia before running into the Florida meatgrinder.
And now Tennessee, no more talented than LSU but benefiting from a deep well of experience that these young Tigers can not hope to close the gap on by Saturday’s 11 a.m. tip.
It would be just like LSU to bounce back to win Saturday and further throw the top of the SEC race into a free-for-all. Especially against a team like Tennessee that while skilled, particularly in terms of half-court offense, is as eager to play a fast tempo as the Tigers are.
But this loss? This one will hurt, though perhaps the pain will remind the Tigers that though all but one NCAA tournament team’s season will end in defeat, theirs doesn’t necessarily have to end this way. Maybe they can learn to make some evasive maneuvers the next time some Kryptonite-laden team is hurtling toward them.