MELBOURNE, VICTORIA, Australia — The highlight of the LSU basketball team’s five-game, 13-day exhibition tour of Australia will come Saturday when the Tigers take on Melbourne United of the National Basketball League for the second time in three days.
LSU improved to 3-1 on the Tour Down Under with a 97-89 win over Melbourne United on Thursday and the Tigers will try to end the tour with another victory before boarding a plane early Sunday for the long trek back to Baton Rouge for the start of the fall semester Monday.
Saturday’s game, which will start at 7 p.m. (4 a.m. Baton Rouge time), will be played at Hisense Arena at Melbourne Park. The match is being billed as a celebration of basketball in Victoria.
With the help of corporate sponsors, the Victorian government and Basketball Victoria, expenses for the game were paid and tickets for the contest were issued free through a lottery.
About 20,000 requests were received for the game, which will be played in the 10,500-seat secondary arena that is adjacent to Rod Laver Arena — the site of the Australian Open Grand Slam Tennis Championship each January.
Two LSU players, Aussie natives Ben Simmons and Darcy Malone, and assistant head coach David Patrick, who grew up in the country and played pro ball there, were part of a photo op/media session Friday.
Also taking part in the media session was Melbourne United’s David Barlow, a two-time Olympic team member. He, along with veteran teammates Chris Goulding and Nate Tomlinson, were rested in Thursday’s game.
But the trio is expected back to join with Todd Blanchfield, who poured in 34 points against the Tigers on Thursday, for Saturday’s matchup.
LSU is guaranteed a winning record on the tour after six players scored in double digits Thursday.
Simmons and Keith Hornsby had 18 points each, and Tim Quarterman had 17 and eight assists. Brandon Sampson scored 15 points, while Aaron Epps and Antonio Blakeney had 13 and 10, respectively.
Five LSU players are averaging in double figures in the fast-paced pro style game in Australia. Simmons is averaging 21.0 points and 8.5 rebounds, with Quarterman (18.5), Blakeney (15.0), Hornsby (13.0) and Sampson (11.5) joining him.
They’ll have to be on their game against a Melbourne team that will be at, or at least near, full strength.
“(Melbourne United is) a tough basketball team,” LSU coach Johnny Jones said. “They are one of the top pro league teams. They were minus a couple of their star players (Thursday), but our guys have done a good job for being on the road and playing the number of games we have played in a short time, and the amount of practices we have been able to have.”