Two things that intrigued Will Wade about Xavier Pinson when he entered the transfer portal last spring were his leadership skills and three years of Southeastern Conference experience.
It would have been hard to overlook those traits considering Wade, who was in need of a veteran point guard after Javonte Smart applied for the NBA draft, had gone against Pinson during his time at Missouri.
Wade thought it was a win-win at the time. Pinson has done his part as the Tigers’ third-leading scorer and top playmaker, but he won’t be available for a huge road test against Florida at 6 p.m. Wednesday (ESPN2).
Pinson left late in Saturday’s game against Tennessee with a right knee sprain and will be held out, although Wade said there’s a chance he could be back for Saturday’s home game with Arkansas.
For now, youngsters Eric Gaines and Justice Williams will have to be up to the challenge when No. 12 LSU (14-1, 2-1 SEC) takes on Florida (9-5, 0-2 SEC) in Exactech Arena.
Wade could use a savvy veteran like Pinson to remain calm and collected in a loud venue that features a student section called “The Rowdy Reptiles.”
It hasn’t been an easy place for LSU to play over the years.
The Tigers are 4-10 on the Gators’ floor since 2000 with Wade going 1-3. His only win there came in overtime in 2019 when his team claimed the SEC’s regular-season title.
“Good teams,” Wade said when asked about LSU’s troubles in Gainesville, which date back to Billy Donovan and now Mike White as the Florida coach. “They’ve had really good teams, and it’s a great atmosphere. They’ve got great teams, really good players, great coaching.”
With a key man like Pinson down for LSU, Florida could be as tough on the Tigers as it has been over the last two decades on its home court.
The LSU men's basketball team received the best news possible on starting point guard Xavier Pinson, who injured his right knee in Saturday's …
But Wade wasn’t ready to sell Gaines or Williams short even though Pinson’s 10.9 points and 4.6 assists per game will be missed. Wade emphasized they won’t have to change the offense without Pinson running the show.
“We’re going to do what we do,” Wade said. “I mean, we’re not changing our players or changing anything we do. These guys are here for a reason: they’re really good players.
“They definitely bring some different aspects to the table, they bring some different strengths to the table. We’re going to play to those strengths.”
Gaines has had turnover issues with a team-high 48, just ahead of Pinson’s 45. But Wade said part of that can be attributed to the fast pace at which his offense plays.
“I talked to (Gaines) on Monday, we went through everything,” Wade said. “But I thought those two were really good today in practice. Now, that’s got to carry over to Wednesday night, but they were solid.”
Gaines, a 6-foot-2 sophomore, gets 8.5 points and 3.5 rebounds a game; Williams, a 6-4 freshman who's seen action in just three games after rehabbing a foot injury, averages 3.3 points and 1.7 rebounds in limited playing time.
“Justice is a really, really good player,” Wade said. “He should be a high school senior right now. He’s very smooth with the ball, he doesn’t get rattled, he’s a great shooter.”
He went on to point out that Williams, who'll back up Gaines and shooting guard Brandon Murray, has turned the ball over just once in 38 minutes since playing in his first game at Auburn on Dec. 29.
“He can make some challenged shots, so we expect him to step in and play well,” Wade said. “We brought him here because he’s a really good player … we brought him here because we believe in him.”