In its first three true road games a season ago, the LSU basketball team defeated Memphis before slipping past Texas A&M and crushing Arkansas — all in a 14-day span.
It couldn’t have started any better in Will Wade’s first season, especially when that stretch was capped by a complete, wire-to-wire 75-54 blowout of Arkansas — a team that rarely loses in Bud Walton Arena.
That victory over Arkansas on Jan. 10, which snapped the Razorbacks’ 11-game homecourt winning streak, could serve as a teaching tool for Wade and his coaching staff when they bring a new set of Tigers into a tough road test at Houston on Wednesday night.
No. 24 Houston (8-0) has chalked up 21 consecutive home wins, the second-longest active streak in Division I behind South Dakota State’s 24-game streak, and will try to add another in an 8 p.m. matchup against LSU (7-2) in UH’s Fertitta Center.
While it will be trying to end Houston’s run at home, LSU will be out to end one of its own.
Dating to last season, the Tigers have lost eight true road games in a row — a streak that includes their final seven Southeastern Conference contests and a second-round NIT loss on Utah’s home floor.
Five of those losses were by double digits and the eight setbacks were by an average of 15.3 points.
That compelled Wade to spend part of the summer analyzing causes for the road woes and looking for possible solutions.
So having a tough game against Houston, which likes to play physical and averages more than 40 rebounds per game, will be a major test for what Wade learned and the things he implemented to change their fortunes.
“We can learn that we can compete in a high-pressure, high-stakes game,” he said. “It’s going to be a bloodbath; you could call a foul on every possession. They’re as physical a team as we’ll play all season long.”
While Houston isn’t overly long with none of their top eight players taller than 6-foot-7, the Cougars average 40.4 rebounds with four players getting at least five per game.
Wade knows what that means for his team, which averages 37.8 rebounds per game.
The Tigers were outrebounded in four consecutive games before dominating Grambling and Incarnate Word on the glass in the past two outings 88-44.
“It’s going to be a huge test on the backboards,” Wade said of facing a different kind of team in Houston. “It’s going to be a huge test of our toughness, it’s going to be a huge test of our 3-point defense — which isn’t very good.
“Our transition defense is going to be tested. Everything’s going to be tested.”
Only three players are back from last year’s team that lost eight in a row on the road and returning guard Skylar Mays is eager to see how it plays out.
The Tigers have a more talented team that also returns Tremont Waters and includes four touted freshmen in Naz Reid, Emmitt Williams, Ja’vonte Smart and Darius Days along with transfer Kavell Bigby-Williams.
“It’s a whole different environment,” Mays said of playing away from home, where LSU has a 13-game winning streak. “This game is something we will have to be ready for to see where we’re at.”
Playing in the SEC is one problem, he said, and trying to get started with no help from the fans is another thing the Tigers didn’t handle well a year ago.
“You don’t get energy from the crowd … you have to build energy yourself,” Mays said. “Maybe we could have done a better job in that aspect last year.”
Bigby-Williams was a member of an Oregon team that advanced to the Final Four two years ago, so he’s had some success on the road.
“You really have to be mentally prepared as well as physically prepared,” he said. “You need a balance mentally and physically and go play with the same intensity whether it’s a home game, road game, or wherever.”
While it’s only mid-December, Mays knows how important the game is.
“It’s huge for where we want to be come March, where we want to be seeded in the postseason,” he said. “We have to come out with a business-like approach and handle business.”
WHAT: LSU at No. 24 Houston
WHEN: 8 p.m. Wednesday
WHERE: Fertitta Center, Houston, Texas
RADIO: WDGL-FM, 98.1; WWWL-AM, 1350; KLWB-FM, 103.7
UP NEXT: vs. St. Mary's, 10 p.m. Saturday (Las Vegas)
• Houston is 8-0 for the third time in program history. The only other times it started with eight wins in a row were in 1967-68 and 1969-70.
• LSU leads the SEC and is eighth in the NCAA shooting inside the 3-point arc at 59.1 percent after hitting 68.6 percent against Incarnate Word.
• LSU was 22nd in the nation in field-goal percentage (.497) through games of Monday. Houston was 22nd in field-goal defense (.378).
Pos. Name Ht. Cl. Pts. Rebs.
G Tremont Waters 5-11 So. 11.4 5.6*
G Skylar Mays 6-4 Jr. 13.9 3.6
G Ja’vonte Smart 6-4 Fr. 11.4 3.6
F Darius Days 6-7 Fr. 7.3 5.4
F Naz Reid 6-10 Fr. 12.1 4.9
F Kavell Bigby-Williams 6-11 Sr. 7.7 4.8
F Emmitt Williams 6-7 Fr. 8.5 7.1
G Marlon Taylor 6-5 Jr. 5.1 2.4
Pos. Name Ht. Cl. Pts. Rebs.
G Galen Robinson 6-1 Sr. 8.8 6.3*
G Corey Davis 6-1 Sr. 16.5 4.4*
G Armoni Brooks 6-3 Jr. 16.5 6.9
F Cedrick Alley 6-5 Fr. 7.4 5.0
F Breaon Brady 6-8 Sr. 7.5 5.6
F/C Brison Gresham 6-8 So. 4.5 5.3
G Nate Hinton 6-5 Fr. 8.3 4.1
F Fabian White 6-7 So. 3.7 2.3