Tennessee will look to stay undefeated at home tonight when they go up against the LSU Tigers on ESPN. LSU reached the Final Four last year but, like Tennessee, has struggled in SEC play this year. Both teams will likely need to come away with a win in order to keep their tournament hopes alive.
“I pointed to the board of our remaining schedule after the Florida game, and there is not a game on there that we cannot win,” Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said. “Of course every game is going to be a challenge.”
In last season’s meeting, LSU defeated Tennessee in Baton Rogue, La., by a score of 88-74. No current Tennessee player scored in double figures in that game, and Chris Lofton was held to just two points — 15 points under his season average at that time last year.
Lofton scoring two points tonight would be somewhat of a positive thing for Tennessee because it would mean that he’s playing. Lofton has now missed four straight games, and Tennessee has gone 1-3 without him.
According to coach Bruce Pearl, Lofton is expected to see playing time Tuesday night. Whether the guard will start is still a question. If Lofton does play, it would be a match-up between the top two scorers in the SEC. Glen “Big Baby” Davis is second in the SEC in scoring, behind only Lofton, averaging 18.5 points a game. He also averages 10.3 rebounds.
One of the keys to the game for the Vols will be to put ball pressure on LSU and force turnovers. LSU does not have too many weaknesses, but they do average nearly 14 turnovers a game. With Tennessee’s disruptive inbound press, plus LSU’s ball-handling problems all season, tonight’s game could be riddled with turnovers.
Freshman forward Wayne Chism had a breakout game against Florida over the weekend and will look to maintain the momentum. He was able to score a career-high 19 points mainly because he was sealing his man off in the post and getting inside position to the goal.
“I started hitting my shots around the basket because I was taking my time,” Chism said. “Usually sometimes I rush my shots and start missing, but taking my time, waiting on putting to cut and moving out of the way gave me a good opportunity to score.”
On the other end of the court, Davis’ potent threat will be when he can follow his miss and quickly get put-backs. If the Volunteers can manage to double-team Davis, LSU will be forced to take outside shots. LSU does not take many three-point shots in a game, averaging 5.9 a game.
The best field goal shooters for the Tigers are all forwards who like to pound the ball down low. Davis, Donnell Lazare and Tasmin Mitchell shoot 50, 58 and 45 percent from the field. Garrett Temple takes the most threes for LSU but only shoots 28 percent from behind the arc. To compensate for the lack of shooting, LSU likes to use its speed.
LSU is more of a streaky team, and if Tennessee takes quick threes, it will allow LSU to score points quickly on the fast break.
To counter the speed of LSU will be freshman Ramar Smith, who in the absence of Lofton has matured quickly, posting career highs in that stretch. Although he was not around for last year’s loss, he said he understands the importance of the game and is excited to be back in Knoxville.
“It feels good playing in front of the home fans, having their energy and shooting on the same rims we do in practice,” he said.
Tip-off is tonight at 9 in Thompson-Boling Arena.
Lofton return likely vs LSU
Published: Tue Feb 06, 2007 | Modified: Tue Feb 06, 2007 03:33 p.m.