BATON ROUGE, La. -- As the wins continue to mount for the LSU basketball team, so do the possibilities.
Left for dead a few weeks ago after blowout losses to Alabama and No. 1 Kentucky, the Tigers (16-10, 6-6) are now on a three-game winning streak and have an outside shot at postseason play.
With three of the SEC’s bottom four teams remaining on the schedule, a loss tonight against Georgia (12-14, 3-9) just might torpedo whatever dreams LSU has for March.
Here are three keys for the Tigers to get past the Bulldogs.
One game at a time: It’s difficult to sell the idea of a game against a 12-14 team being huge.
But with the No. 4 seed in the SEC tournament still up for grabs, LSU can’t afford any losses, and this Georgia team is only 10 days out from the same upset of Mississippi State that started the Tigers’ winning streak.
For the majority of LSU's roster, this is the first time a game this late in the season has meant anything. Two of the team’s three seniors, Chris Bass and Storm Warren, were on the squad that won the SEC and went to the NCAA tournament in 2009.
But those two are mainly bench contributors, while the entirety of LSU’s starting lineup has yet to taste that kind of success.
LSU coach Trent Johnson, focused on the present, emphasized the importance of staying focused on the task at hand.
“I've been in situations before where it's late February and everyone is talking about March. Like I said before, they started talking about it in November,” he said. “Kids lose focus on what's important, that you're a student-athlete, you're in college and you're playing basketball.”
With such an inexperienced roster, the Tigers will need to be focused.
Out Fox the competition: Looking down the floor from Johnson on Wednesday will be a familiar face in Georgia coach Mark Fox.
Fox was an associate head coach at Nevada during Johnson’s tenure in Reno. When Johnson left Nevada for Stanford, Fox took the head coach position, parlaying it into a 123-43 record, three NCAA tournament appearances and an eventual job offer from Georgia.
With the pair having such a long history, it will be interesting to see how they coach against each other. Johnson, for his part, downplayed the importance of the chess match.
“There's a relationship there that's built off of a lot of hard work, a lot of trust, a lot of loyalty and a lot of commitment,” he said. “For me, it's about making sure that we do the things we've been doing all year long and don't get caught up in trying to over-think this or over-analyze because he knows me all too well. I think I know him a little bit, too."
Johnson got the better of his friend in Fox’s first season, but the Bulldogs ran over the Tigers last year. It’s time for Round 3.
Keep up the D: Following Saturday’s win against South Carolina, the Tigers are on a three-game streak of not allowing the opposition to crack 70 points.
LSU’s scoring defense, ranked fourth in the SEC, has been key to its success all season. The Tigers can’t let up now. That should be manageable against the Bulldogs, who place last in the league in scoring.
But a bad average doesn’t imply a lack of talent. Georgia senior guard Gerald Robinson is averaging 14.1 points per game. Freshman guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is enjoying a strong debut season, putting up 13.9 per contest -- the same average as Justin Hamilton.
LSU has fallen victim to talented guard play before, giving up 13 first-half points to Mississippi State’s Dee Bost last week. The Tigers have also proven they can shut it down, limiting Bost to just two after halftime.
Johnson has bemoaned his group for getting lackadaisical on defense in the past, which is something the Tigers can’t allow to happen down the stretch.