In a perfect world, the LSU basketball team would have played a midweek game heading into a big Saturday matchup with Auburn.
Coming off a road win against Mississippi State and a résumé-boosting victory over No. 16 Tennessee a week ago, the Tigers had successfully put a tough stretch in which they lost four of five games behind them.
That’s where Mother Nature intervened — loudly.
A game at Ole Miss that was hastily scheduled for Wednesday was pushed back to Thursday because of brutal winter weather before it was postponed along with two other Southeastern Conference games that day.
So after a week off, LSU (13-6, 8-4 SEC) will try to continue in its recent winning form when it hosts Auburn (11-11, 5-8 SEC) at 3 p.m. Saturday on the same court it secured a signature 13-point victory over nationally-ranked Tennessee a week earlier.
Auburn also had its Thursday night game with Mississippi State postponed by bone-chilling temperatures and the snow and ice that pounded the region.
While his team was unfazed by the constant changes, Will Wade said the Tigers are preparing to play an Auburn team that’s better than its record indicates.
“We’re all used to it,” Wade said of the season starting and stopping.
LSU, which is a half-game behind Arkansas in third place in the SEC standings, had a game with Florida postponed earlier this month because of COVID-19 issues within the Gators program.
That break allowed the Tigers to focus on its games with Mississippi State and Tennessee, which obviously turned out well.
Wade can only hope this most recent stoppage turns out just as well.
“Hey, that’s part of it; if they’re canceled, they’re canceled and just move forward and move on to the next thing,” he said. “We don’t spend too much time worrying about stuff we can’t control. We try to focus in on things we can control and things that we can affect."
But after spending the first half of the week preparing for Ole Miss, whom they defeated 75-61 back on Jan. 9, the Tigers had to quickly pivot to Auburn, a team they have yet to play this season.
In prepping for Ole Miss, Wade and his staff and players extensively studied the Rebels’ 86-84 overtime win over Auburn on Feb. 6.
“They’re going to pose a lot of problems for us,” Wade said. “Their transition offense is tremendous, it’s top five in the country after an opponent’s made basket.”
Another area of concern, Wade said, is Auburn’s rebounding. Bruce Pearl’s team ranks third in the SEC in total rebounds at 39.3 per game and is fourth on the offensive glass with 12.5 a game.
Auburn has dropped four of its past five games, but two of the four losses were by two points each to Kentucky and Ole Miss. Before that, Pearl’s team had won four of five with an 88-82 victory over then-No. 12 Missouri.
“They’re a little bit young and they’ve had some problems down the stretch of some games, but their numbers would indicate they’re a lot better than their record shows,” Wade said of Auburn, which is second in the SEC in averaging 81.2 points a game in conference games.
Wade noted that Pearl’s teams are always fast and aggressive offensively in transition and on the glass.
Freshman point guard Sharife Cooper, a five-star recruit who didn’t become eligible until the 12th game of the season, makes the offense go.
He leads the SEC in league games only with 9.0 a game and his 8.6 average would be good enough to lead the nation, but doesn’t qualify because he hasn’t played in 75% of his team’s games.
The 6-foot-1 Cooper also gets 19.6 points and 4.4 rebounds per game, which means LSU, which was 28th in the NET rankings Friday, faces a big challenge in its bid to continue boosting its NCAA résumé.
“There’s always a challenge. … We had to get ourselves out of the rut; now we’re out of the rut, but we’re not home free,” he said. “We’re playing a very, very dangerous team, a team that’s a tough matchup for us.
“We’ve got to continue to move forward, we can’t rest. This is a big Quad 2 game, and we’ve got to continue to build on the progress we’ve made. If you take two steps forward and one step back, that doesn’t do you a whole lot.”