Johnson hopes to build on season in NIT

March, 12, 2012
3/12/12
3:56
PM ET
BATON ROUGE -- Trent Johnson said there was no team watch party for the NIT selection selection show, when his Tigers were given a No. 6 seed and shipped off to faced No. 3 seed Oregon.

He said there was no sigh of relief or group hug when LSU discovered its season would continue Tuesday night against the Ducks. Instead, the Tigers got to work.

"When we found out, we immediately went to the practice floor at 8:30 p.m. and went up and down for about an hour and a half," Johnson said. "With midterms and things of that nature, they've got a lot going on, but they were really excited to get the opportunity to play."

The NIT doesn't use neutral sites for its opening round games, so the Tigers' lower seed means they will play at Oregon -- about as long a trip as a team from Louisiana could expect to make. Still, Johnson said the short notice and cross-country travel shouldn't serve as excuses.

"We'll get on a charter plane. It will be a four-hour flight, and we will fly into Eugene and take a bus," he said. "They'll have four hours of sleep, and then we'll practice. It doesn't get any better than that. I think that's really overrated when you start talking about it being last-minute."

More pressing than the travel is the fact that Johnson has had hardly any time to study up on the Ducks. Oregon finished third in the Pac-12, which only sent two teams to the NCAA tournament this year, but it managed 22 wins to LSU's 18. Because of the short notice of the trip, Johnson said the Tigers won't see any tape of their opponents until they get to Eugene.

"We'll have extensive video sessions this evening when we get there, and then we'll put in our gameplan," he said.

An NIT bid is often received as a disappointment after missing the NCAA tournament. Just a few short weeks ago, the Tigers had an outside shot at the Big Dance after a four-game winning streak. That dream died with an abysmal 0-3 finish to the regular season, although the team bounced back in impressive fashion at the SEC tournament. The Tigers drubbed Arkansas in the opening round, and pushed No. 1 Kentucky in a nine-point quarterfinal loss.

Johnson said if anything, his young roster should come away from the roller coaster ride with an appreciation for consistency.

"I shared with them an understanding of how really, really hard you have to play and how competitive you have to be," Johnson said. "But again, I think [Kentucky coach] John [Calipari] said something that was right on: kids aren't machines ... So it's just been a process."

Any kind of postseason bid has to be considered a step in the right direction for a program that won just five combined conference games in the last two years, though. Johnson said if the Tigers can factor in some consistency, they will get to where they want to be.

"As long as they don't forget how hard they had to work to get to that point, and as long as they don't ever get caught up in moral victories, we'll continue to progress and have some success," he said.

David Helman | email

Reporter, RecruitingNation

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