NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Skylar Mays knows what to expect when the LSU basketball team meets Florida on Friday in the Tigers’ Southeastern Conference tournament opener.
“If it’s Florida,” Mays said earlier this week, “we can expect 45 minutes.”
That’s the amount of clock time it takes to play two halves and overtime, which LSU and Florida did twice in a recent 15-day span.
Whether another overtime is in the cards remains to be seen in the rubber match between No. 1 seed LSU (26-5) and No. 8 seed Florida (18-14) at noon in the quarterfinals after the Gators moved on Thursday with a 66-50 rout of Arkansas.
In their two previous slugfests, Florida outlasted LSU 82-77 in Baton Rouge on Feb. 20 before the Tigers returned the favor 79-78 in the rematch on March 6 in Gainesville.
“I don’t know that my heart can (take it),” a smiling Florida coach Mike White said.
More will be at stake Friday with both teams having much to prove: LSU will try to keep a grip on a No. 2 or 3 seed for the NCAA tournament, perhaps claiming a top regional seed with an SEC tournament title, while Florida hopes to solidify a possible bid.
For LSU, it’s also about playing a second game without suspended coach Will Wade, who reiterated Thursday he won't answer questions about FBI wiretaps that captured him talking to a convicted basketball middleman about potential recruits.
But interim head coach Tony Benford, who guided the Tigers to a win over Vanderbilt on Saturday, said it hasn’t exactly been a distraction for the team.
“When you have players take ownership, you have a chance to be very successful,” he said. “That’s why we’ve had the success we’ve had with all the adversity we’ve been through. I give those players credit … they’re taking ownership.”
White also thinks his players can handle the situation — even if the third game goes into overtime.
“They’ve been a resilient group all year. … They were two high-level college basketball games (with LSU),” he said. “We had chances to win both, and obviously, we had chances to lose both. Hopefully, it will be a great game … we all know how good they are.”
This matchup will be somewhat different with Wade out of the picture and his players on a mission.
But White doesn’t expect LSU to play any differently after the Tigers, down eight points with six minutes left on the road just nine days ago, won in overtime.
“Well, they’re really good,” White said. “They finished the season really strong, and Tony does a really good job. I know that firsthand.”
White, a former Louisiana Tech coach, said he remembers taking a team to North Texas when Benford coached there.
“We got our brains beat in,” White said. “He does a very good job, and they have a good staff. They have a really good team.”
White said it won’t take him long to deliver the scouting report after LSU won rebounding battle in both their earlier games.
In last week’s game, LSU outrebounded Florida 46-36. A 20-11 advantage on the offensive glass gave the Tigers a huge 20-8 edge in second-chance points.
“It will be a 30-second conversation,” White said. “We have to lock in on these guys’ actions, how good they are on the offensive glass.”
Another key, he said, will be to keeping Tremont Waters under control after he had 19 points and six assists in their most recent meeting.
“He put us in a quandary, especially late in the game, with his post touches,” White said.
LSU, which is second in the SEC in scoring 81.6 points a game, has to figure out how to solve a Florida defense that leads the league in allowing 63.7 points a game. The Tigers scored 64 and 72 points in regulation, respectively, in their two games with the Gators.
“Even though they’re small, I think they’re the most physical team in the league,” Benford said. “They do a great job of changing up their defenses.
"You have to take care of the ball. They really try to control the tempo with their offense and defense and keep the game in the 60s.”
WHAT: Florida vs. No. 9 LSU
WHEN: Noon Friday
WHERE: Bridgestone Arena, Nashville, Tenn.
RADIO: WDGL-FM, 98.1; WWL-AM, 1350; KLWB-FM, 103.7
UP NEXT: TBA
• LSU is 8-15 in the SEC tournament since 2004. LSU fell in its opener to Mississippi State the past two years and were one-and-done in three of the past four seasons.
• A victory over Florida would put LSU in the SEC tournament semifinals for the 27th time overall and 16th since the league brought the event back in 1979.
• LSU has dominated Florida in the SEC tournament, winning eight of their 11 matchups. However, each of Florida's three wins have come in the past four meetings.
Pos. Name Ht. Cl. Pts. Rebs.
G Andrew Nembhard 6-5 Fr. 7.9 5.2*
G KeVaughn Allen 6-2 Sr. 11.9 2.9
G Jalen Hudson 6-6 Sr. 8.7 2.7
F Keyontae Johnson 6-9 Fr. 7.5 5.8
C Kevarrius Hayes 6-9 Sr. 7.8 6.1
G Noah Locke 6-3 Fr. 10.2 2.5
F Dontay Bassett 6-9 So. 2.7 2.3
G Deaundrae Ballard 6-5 So. 4.7 1.7
Pos. Name Ht. Cl. Pts. Rebs.
G Tremont Waters 5-11 So. 15.3 5.9*
G Skylar Mays 6-4 Jr. 13.6 3.2
G Marlon Taylor 6-5 Jr. 7.0 3.6
F Naz Reid 6-10 Fr. 13.3 6.9
F Kavell Bigby-Williams 6-11 Sr. 7.9 6.5
F Darius Days 6-6 Fr. 5.5 4.1
F Emmitt Williams 6-6 Fr. 7.2 5.7
G Marshall Graves 6-4 Jr. 2.8 0.7*