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February 23, 2013

Huge challenge for perimeter players

It is no secret as to why Alabama is in second place in the Southeastern Conference standings one game behind Florida.

The Crimson Tide is not going to wow opponents with its offensive production. Alabama, which is shooting just 41 percent from the field, is averaging 59 points in its 13 SEC games. But, the Tide has been able to claim ten victories because of defense. SEC opponents are scoring just 56 points per contest.

LSU knows all about this stingy Alabama defense. In their game two weeks ago in Tuscaloosa, the Tigers made just 38 percent of their field goal attempts. The Crimson Tide shot only 35 percent, but gutted its way to a 60-57 victory.

The rematch will take place Saturday afternoon at the PMAC with LSU trying to square its conference record at 7-7. In their loss at Tennessee on Tuesday, the Tigers were unable to control the Vols' outside shooting. That scenario will not play out Saturday. This contest will be a slugfest.

"Alabama tries to muck the game up on defense," LSU coach Johnny Jones said. "They play extremely physical and try to take you out of your offense. Alabama has a very good defense. We have to play with a sense of urgency and toughness."

Johnny O'Bryant was quite productive in the first Alabama game as he accounted for 22 points and 11 rebounds. The Tide defense did harass O'Bryant into five turnovers. More importantly, the Tigers' three perimeter starters had their problems against Alabama.

Anthony Hickey, Andre Stringer and Malik Morgan were a combined 8-of-24 from the field against the Crimson Tide. The trio combined for just 21 points. Alabama's three perimeter starters - Trevor Releford, Trevor Lacey and Levi Randolph - accounted for 29 points. But, their defense was the key.

"Alabama does get after you on defense," said Morgan, who was 2-of-5 from the field in the first game. "They pressure the ball strong. They try to get under you. Alabama makes you uncomfortable and tries to get you out of your sets.

"We have to execute our offense. We can't get rattled and must stay poised. We have to be physical with the ball and stay in tune with what we do."

Stringer missed 3-pointers twice in the late stages of the game when the Tigers had an opportunity to tie the score. Stringer, who is at a significant height and weight disadvantage against Lacey, was just 2-of-7 on 3-pointers in the first meeting.

"I always play against guys who are stronger than me," Stringer said. "I have to be confident. We have to try to execute and get the right shot. We know what Alabama wants to do. We have to match their game. We have to be as tough-minded as Alabama."

The most important matchup in the game is that of the two point guards - Hickey and Releford. In the first meeting, Hickey had eight points, four assists and one turnover. Meanwhile, Releford had 12 points and two assists with three turnovers.

Releford didn't play in the game at the PMAC last season won by the Tigers. In that nine-point LSU victory, Hickey had four points, five assists and one turnover. Releford had 20 points, two assists and one turnover when the Tide won by 16 in Tuscaloosa last year. Hickey had just eight points that night.

"I have to use my speed against Releford," Hickey said. "Lacey helps out against me. Alabama tries not to let me get in the lane. I can't worry about how big their guards are. I have to get everybody else involved. We have to attack Alabama's defense. We have to find a rhythm and the right mindset."

Entering Saturday's game, the Tigers are in a three-way tie with Georgia and Texas A&M for eighth place in the standings. But, LSU is just two games behind the three teams tied for fourth place - Arkansas, Ole Miss and Missouri. The Tigers will play those teams and Texas A&M in the next two weeks.



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