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January 10, 2014

Tigers looking for toughness

For just the second time in Johnny Jones' tenure as LSU coach, his team finds itself with a losing streak.

The Tigers have been upset in back-to-back games at the PMAC - first by Rhode Island last Saturday and then by Tennessee in the Southeastern Conference opener Tuesday. LSU was soundly beaten by the Vols, who led by double-digits throughout the second half in their 68-50 victory.

The Tigers' only other losing streak under Jones occurred at this time 12 months ago. LSU lost its first four SEC games - three by at least nine points. The Tigers will attempt to end their losing ways Saturday afternoon when they meet South Carolina in Columbia.

The Gamecocks (7-7) lost their league opener against Florida on Wednesday. South Carolina has won five of its last seven games with the other defeat in that stretch coming at the hands of Boise State. But, LSU isn't concerned with the Gamecocks. Its attention is firmly focused inward.

"We have to grind it out for 40 minutes," Jones said. "Your defense has to dominate the offense and your offense has to dominate the defense even though they know what you are going to run. In that case, you have to screen better, cut harder and rebound better. Those are all signs of toughness."

Both Rhode Island and Tennessee outworked LSU. The Rams outrebounded the Tigers 46-32. Then, the Volunteers, who pride themselves on their toughness under coach Cuonzo Martin, also had a dozen more rebounds than LSU at 40-28.

In both games, the Tigers shot a lower percentage from the field than their opponents. LSU made 42 percent of its field goal attempts against Rhode Island. That figure dipped to 37 percent against Tennessee.

"We didn't execute (Tuesday)," said Andre Stringer, who went scoreless for the first time in his career against Tennessee. "We didn't play hard enough. We didn't attack them at the rim. We have gotten away from our aggressive nature.

"We have to do things to get to the foul line more. We have to put guys in position so they can get to the basket. A lot of teams are driving and getting us in foul trouble. We have to do the same."

LSU attempted seven foul shots against Tennessee. The Tigers have taken more free throw attempts than the opponent in five of 13 games. But, field goal shooting has been the barometer for LSU. In every game except for Memphis, the team with the higher field goal percentage came away with the win.

"When we play well on offense, it's not with things that were called," Jones said. "We were just flowing. It's been a fast break or a pick-and-pop.

"Anthony Hickey, Andre Stringer and Shavon Coleman are knocking down shots and we are moving the ball. Then, Jordan Mickey is making plays. The other night, we were not knocking down shots and our opponent was making shots at a high rate."

Hickey has struggled on the offensive end in these two recent losses. He has missed 12 of his 17 field goal attempts. In addition, Hickey has been credited with just a total of four assists in those two games.

"We have to play inside-out," Hickey said. "We have to run our break more. We have to get a stop on defense and then we have to have a good possession on offense. We can't force a turnover and come up with an empty possession. It's going to happen. Sometimes it takes a setback to get a team going."

In his press conference following the loss to Tennessee, Jones hinted about lineup changes. Jones acknowledged two days later that there will be changes. Jones refused to identify the new starters.

"There has not been a sense of urgency every time for us," Jones said. "There will be changes in the starting lineup. I want to get off to the right start. We have to get things ironed out on offense. We have gotten away from the things we had been doing well."

The halfcourt offense was stagnant at times against Tennessee. The ball would get to Johnny O'Bryant in the post and the other players would stop moving.

"We have plays we run after the ball gets in the post," Stringer said. "Early in the year, we would pass and screen away. It is more about us having to realize what have to do."

LSU needs to do anything to prevent the losing streak to continue. The Tigers have back-to-back games on the road. Next Wednesday, LSU plays at Ole Miss.

"This team will be where it needs to be," O'Bryant said. "We got out-toughed by Tennessee. We have to be a tougher team than that. We have to be the team that is stepping on the other team's neck."


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