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February 14, 2013

Time to break out of shooting slump

Four weeks ago, LSU was involved in its highest scoring Southeastern Conference game of the season while losing an 82-73 overtime matchup against South Carolina at the PMAC.

Of the Tigers' ten SEC games, only in the one against the Gamecocks did both teams make at least 40 percent of their field goal attempts. LSU shot 41 percent from the field, while South Carolina connected on 44 percent of its shots.

The Tigers and Gamecocks meet for a rematch Thursday night in Columbia. One should not expect these two teams to put up a lot of points this time. In SEC games alone, LSU and South Carolina have the two lowest field goal percentages - 39 percent for the Tigers and 38 percent for the Gamecocks.

LSU has struggled with it shooting throughout conference play. The only other time besides the South Carolina game the Tigers made 40 percent of their field goal attempts occurred in their best win in the league. LSU shot 56 percent from the floor in its 73-70 upset of Missouri.

The Tigers enter the final four weeks of the regular season with a 4-6 league mark - tied for eighth place. Jones acknowledged that his team must shoot the ball better if it is going to challenge for a .500 conference record.

"We are getting good shots," Jones said. "We are getting good looks at the basket. We have to knock down shots. We have to improve our field goal percentage. That, along with cutting down on our turnovers, would help us immensely."

In LSU's most recent loss - 60-57 at Alabama last Saturday, Andre Stringer had two open 3-point attempts in the last minute. Stringer, who missed six of his eight shots against the Crimson Tide, failed to connect either time.

"We had a lot of good looks against Alabama," Stringer said. "Sometimes, shots go down and sometimes they don't. I don't feel the defenses are physical against us. We just have to stay focused and stay confident with our shooting."

Of the six Tigers players who are averaging at least 20 minutes per SEC game, Johnny O'Bryant is the only one who is making more than 40 percent of his shots. O'Bryant is shooting 43 percent (48-of-111) from the floor in conference games.

Stringer is shooting 37 percent (31-of-83) from the field. He is making his 3-point shots at almost the same percentage - 36 percent (17-of-47). Anthony Hickey is a just a hair under 40 percent at 39.6 (55-of-139). Hickey is shooting just 31 percent (23-of-74) on treys.

"We are getting sped up," Hickey said. "We rush our shots. We have to let the game come to us. We want to take the first look. We have to wait sometimes and get a better shot."

Entering this week, only three SEC teams are making at least 45 percent of their field goal attempts in league games - Florida at 51 percent, Kentucky at 48 percent and Missouri at 45 percent. Not surprisingly, those three teams have a combined 23-7 record in conference play.

Jones believes that 45 percent is the field goal number teams should have as a goal.

"I thought there was a stretch early in the season when we really shot the ball well," Jones said. "When you get into the conference, defenses are more aggressive. They take your strengths away.

"Look at what Florida is shooting and look at its record. Teams with percentages between 39 and 42 percent reflect their record. When you get to 45 percent, you'll see improvement in the record."

Stringer is the one Tigers player in whom Jones has confidence regardless of the distance of his shot. The other players need to take their long-range shots under certain conditions.

"Any time Stringer gets a good look, I am surprised when it does not go down," Jones said. "He has a good rotation and a good finish on his shot. Guys like Hickey and (Charles) Carmouche are better when they can get their feet set.

"We need to drive it inside and then pitch it outside. When we do that, I am confident those other guys will make a high percentage. It's a little bit tougher shot for those guys on the (fast) break. It needs to be a rhythm shot."

South Carolina has just one other victory besides the one at LSU. The Gamecocks defeated Arkansas by 21 points at Colonial Life Arena. But, South Carolina has been beaten at home by Auburn, Vanderbilt, Georgia and Tennessee. Georgia is the only one of those four teams to have a winning SEC mark.

LSU lost a four-point lead late in regulation in the first meeting with the Gamecocks. The Tigers had the last shot in regulation, but O'Bryant took an ill-advised deep field goal attempt.

"The South Carolina loss burns a little bit," Jones said. "We had the ball at the end of regulation and didn't get a good look. We had the opportunity to win it. Unfortunately, we didn't get the right read."

Due to the SEC television schedule, the Tigers will have three games in a six-day stretch - Thursday at South Carolina, Saturday at home against Mississippi State and Tuesday at Tennessee. None of those three teams has a better conference record than LSU.

"Playing three games in six days will be very challenging," Jones said. "South Carolina mirrors us in scoring and field goal percentage. Mississippi State is a team we had a battle with and won at the end. Then, Tennessee is a tough team which is getting better."

Hickey stressed that the Tigers team now is better than the one which dropped the overtime decision against South Carolina.

"We're better now because we've been in close games," Hickey said. "We had some bumps in the road early in the conference. We are better in trusting each other now. We have each other's back. We let one get away at home against South Carolina. We are trying to get back at them when we go up there."


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