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January 21, 2014

Winning streak would benefit Tigers

It appears there has been no marked improvement in Southeastern Conference basketball.

With the regular season slightly past the halfway point and two weeks into the league schedule, Florida and Kentucky are the only two ranked SEC teams. Moreover, the Gators and the Wildcats are the lone SEC teams with a RPI in the top 50 in the country.

LSU is one of five SEC teams in position to make a charge into NCAA tournament consideration. The other four teams are Ole Miss, Missouri, Tennessee and Arkansas. The Rebels are 3-1 in the league, while the Razorbacks are 1-3. The other three teams have split their first four conference games.

However, all of those teams desperately need a winning streak. The next two weeks will be important for LSU. During that stretch, the Tigers will play four of the SEC's top 100-RPI teams - three at home. That group of games begins Tuesday when LSU plays host to Missouri at the PMAC.

Following the game against Missouri, the Tigers will play at Alabama on Saturday. Next week, LSU has home games against Kentucky and Arkansas. Of course, the players will utter the next-game-is-the-most-important mantra.

"We have to get into the NCAA tournament," senior small forward Shavon Coleman said. "To get in the NCAA tournament we have to win games. But, we still have to take it one game at a time. We have to just try to win each game as it comes up."

LSU snapped out of a two-week funk with a 23-point victory against an undermanned Vanderbilt team last Saturday at the PMAC. Now, the Tigers need to build off that outing against the Commodores and try to win consecutive league games for the first time in 11 months.

"We have to find some consistency," senior shooting guard Andre Stringer said. "We need a consistent level of toughness and intensity. Every little thing counts. We need to be confident of what we learned against Vanderbilt."

Without a doubt, Johnny O'Bryant was the dominant performer in the 81-58 victory against Vanderbilt with 22 points and 12 rebounds - his first double-double in two months.

"Johnny really set the tone on both ends of the floor," LSU coach Johnny Jones said. "He came in with the intent to dominate. He was more decisive to go get the basketball off the boards. He was more assertive on the blocks. He did a great job finding angles and attacked the defense a lot quicker."

Missouri has been an up-and-down team in the first two weeks of conference play. Missouri beat Auburn and Alabama, but lost to Georgia and Vanderbilt. The Georgia defeat took place in Columbia. Missouri is a perimeter-oriented team with its point guard and two wings all 6-foot-5.

Jordan Clarkson, the starting point guard, is averaging 19 points and three assists per game. Shooting guard Jabari Brown is contributing 19 points and five rebounds per game. Small forward Earnest Ross is accounting for 14 points and seven rebounds per game.

Coleman, who kept Vanderbilt's 6-foot-9 Rod Odom in check in the first half Saturday, will have a major defensive role against the taller Missouri perimeter players. Coleman didn't score against the Commodores, but still had a productive 29 minutes.

"It's not about scoring for me on this team," Coleman said. "We have a lot of scorers. My main focus the other night was to stop Odom from getting going. I did a good job of pressuring him and running him off the 3-point line. I will take the same mind frame against Missouri."

With the larger wings, Stringer will be at a height disadvantage. When the Tigers played Tennessee with its two 6-foot-5 wings, Stringer was held scoreless for the first time in his career.

"I have to take advantage of what the defense is giving me," Stringer said. "If they crowd me, I'll use my quickness. I'll try to get in the lane and get other guys shots."

Since the loss to Tennessee, Stringer has been coming off the bench with Malik Morgan starting. Coleman also moved into the starting lineup replacing Jarell Martin. It would help if Coleman could provide some scoring. He is just 6-of-25 from the field in the three games he has started.

"I have missed some wide open shots," Coleman said. "Eventually, I'll knock them down. It doesn't matter who starts for us. The past few games Malik and me have been ready to go at the start. I try to throw that first punch."

Throwing that first punch Tuesday would help LSU whip an offensive-oriented Missouri squad. LSU simply needs to put together another solid performance.

"Being consistent is important," Jones said. "It is something we talk about all the time. We have to do things the right way all the time. We need that sense of urgency and consistency. That's something we talk about every day.

"To get going and have a successful season, we have to get back-to-back wins. You hope we learn from the last game and put good back-to-back performances together. That's when you can get separation from the other teams in the league."


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