Will Wade didn’t need the fancy metrics he loves to use to get his LSU basketball team to focus on the final stretch of the regular season.
Extensive numbers-crunching wasn’t necessary in this case, just a little simple math.
In Wade’s eyes, the only ones that matter are these: Seven and 22.
Seven games and 22 days are all that remain in the race to the Southeastern Conference finish line, which will determine if LSU claims a second consecutive regular-season championship.
Going into Saturday’s play, LSU shares the top spot in the league with Auburn and Kentucky — all at 9-2.
After ending a mini two-game slide with an 82-78 win over Missouri on Tuesday night, Wade knows there’s little margin for error going into a challenging four-game stretch that commences with Saturday’s 3 p.m. matchup against Alabama in Coleman Coliseum — where the Tigers are just 5-21 since 1992.
Starting with Alabama (13-11, 5-6 SEC), No. 25 LSU (18-6, 9-2 SEC) plays three of its next four contests on the road with its only home game in that stretch coming against No. 12 Kentucky on Tuesday night.
After Alabama and Kentucky, LSU plays at South Carolina (Feb. 22) and at Florida (Feb. 26) before sandwiching home games against Texas A&M (Feb. 29) and Georgia (March 7) around a final road trip to Arkansas (March 4).
The most important one, of course, is the one at hand.
Wade knows it won’t be easy considering the venue and the fact Alabama is coming off a road win at Georgia and a narrow overtime loss at No. 11 Auburn on Wednesday night.
Alabama, which LSU took down 90-76 just 2½ weeks ago in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, is desperate for a win to keep its NCAA tournament hopes alive even though it still had a respectable NET ranking of 39 as of Friday morning. LSU had a NET of 27.
Alabama, which crushed then-No. 4 Auburn 83-64 in Coleman Coliseum on Jan. 15, gave Bruce Pearl’s team all it could handle Wednesday night in Auburn Arena when it knocked down 22 3-point baskets.
“Alabama is obviously playing very well,” Wade said Thursday. “They hit 22 threes (Wednesday) night. That’s about a month worth of threes for us, and they hit them in one game. They’re shooting it with confidence.”
With that came a word of caution from Wade, whose team jumped on top of Alabama early in their first meeting and led 51-33 at halftime before coasting to the victory.
In that game, the Tigers completely shut down high-scoring Crimson Tide point guard Kira Lewis and shooting guard John Petty, who were each averaging better than 16 points a game, in the first half.
All 13 of Lewis’ points came in the second half and Petty had just two points in each half.
“We won by 14, but Alabama is going to get a lot of confidence from that game,” Wade said. “We didn’t box them out, the ball just kind of bounced our way a couple times where they could have gotten easy putbacks.
“We’re going to have to play quite a bit better at a place where we haven’t played very well at in a long time. It’ll be a big challenge for us.”
LSU is expected to have a key contributor this time around in guard Charles Manning, who missed the first game with Alabama while recovering from surgery on his right foot.
Wade hopes to have Manning, who missed eight games, play between 10 and 12 minutes with the idea of him providing starting guards Javonte Smart and Skylar Mays with a little rest since they’ve been logging between 36 and 38 minutes a game.
LSU weathered the storm and went 6-2 in Manning’s absence, which came just a few games after Marlon Taylor returned from an offseason foot injury.
Wade knows that being closer to full strength than his team has been all season will be a key to the stretch run that starts Saturday.
“You are never happy … you wish you were a game or two better here or there, but all in all, we are in a pretty good spot,” he said. “We would have signed up for this earlier in the year, to be in this spot with the injuries. But it would be a difficult spot to be in with a full deck of cards.”
WHAT: No. 25 LSU at Alabama
WHEN: 3 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Coleman Coliseum, Tuscaloosa, Ala.
RADIO: WDGL, 98.1; WWL-AM, 870; KLWB-FM, 103.7
UP NEXT: vs. Kentucky, 8 p.m. Tuesday
• LSU, which won last year in Tuscaloosa 74-69, hasn't claimed back-to-back victories in Coleman Coliseum since 1991 and '92.
• Alabama leads the SEC in scoring at 83.0 points per game. But the Crimson Tide ranks last in allowing 78.9 a game.
• Alabama isn't shy about shooting the ball, hoisting an SEC-high 1,530 field-goal attempts; 731 have come from beyond the arc.
LSU (18-6, 9-2 SEC)
Pos. Name Ht. Cl. Pts. Rebs.
G Javonte Smart 6-4 So. 12.4 4.2*
G Skylar Mays 6-4 Sr. 16.2 4.7
F Trendon Watford 6-9 Fr. 13.8 7.1
F Darius Days 6-6 So. 12.0 7.5
F Emmitt Williams 6-6 So. 13.9 7.0
G Marlon Taylor 6-6 Sr. 4.7 4.4
G Charles Manning 6-5 Jr. 8.0 3.1
G Aundre Hyatt 6-5 Fr. 1.9 2.2
Alabama (13-11, 5-6 SEC)
Pos. Name Ht. Cl. Pts. Rebs.
G Kira Lewis 6-3 So. 17.1 5.1*
G John Shackelford 6-3 Fr. 13.8 4.4
G John Petty 6-5 Jr. 15.5 7.2
F/G Herbert Jones 6-7 Jr. 9.4 6.2
F Alex Reese 6-9 Jr. 9.7 4.6
G James Bolden 6-0 Sr. 8.1 2.1
G Jaylen Forbes 6-4 Fr. 3.0 2.4
F Javian Davis 6-9 Fr. 6.2 4.0