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February 7, 2014

Margin of error getting slim

When LSU opened its season nearly three months ago, the stated goal was reaching the NCAA tournament.

With the Southeastern Conference schedule at the halfway point, the Tigers cannot afford many more losses if they are going to reach the Big Dance.

LSU suffered an extremely disappointing loss Thursday night at Georgia. The Bulldogs scored more than 20 points higher than their average in whipping the Tigers 91-78. LSU, which has lost three of its four SEC road games, has a 5-4 league record.

The Tigers are getting the reputation of being a good home team only. Such a body of work will put LSU in the NIT and not the NCAA tournament. The Tigers return home in a must-win situation against an Auburn team, which is on a three-game winning streak, on Saturday afternoon.

"I am concerned about getting our guys mentally focused for Saturday," senior guard Andre Stringer said. "What happened (Thursday) was frustrating. Being around the players at school (Friday), you could tell we were disappointed. If we want to feel good about ourselves, we have to know we gave it our all."

LSU turned in another horrible defensive effort against the Bulldogs. The Tigers have lost twice in their past six games - both on the road. In those two defeats, LSU allowed 82 points to Alabama and 91 points to Georgia.

"We have to come together," senior Shavon Coleman said. "We didn't play good defense against Georgia. That is something we have to do if we are going to make a run at the (NCAA) tournament. We weren't at our best. We weren't talking enough on the court. We have to come out hard every game."

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LSU's zone defense had performed well in victories at the PMAC against Kentucky and Arkansas. However, coach Mark Fox's Bulldogs sliced that defense to shreds for easy shots at the basket. Coach Johnny Jones then went to a man-to-man defense which resulted in numerous Georgia foul shots.

"Georgia found the creases in our zone," Jones said. "They were bringing a player from the weakside and having someone stepping up to the short corner. They had the numbers in how they spaced us out. They were able to finish at the rim. It is tough to make those adjustments in the game.

"Then, we never figured out a way to defend (point guard Charles) Mann. He is leading the conference in getting to the foul line. We didn't do a good job of containing him out front. He had some good straight lines to the basket. He lived at the free throw line (9-of-13)."

Stringer was on the bench in the early minutes when Georgia was shredding the LSU zone. Then, Stringer was on the floor when Mann was attacking the Tigers man-to-man defense.

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"It was very tough against (Georgia)," Stringer said. "They had a big guard in Mann who penetrated real well. It was very frustrating watching them get dunks. Our inability to keep their guys out of the lane hurt us.

"Our rotations were not right. We were not talking as much on defense. Their guards did a good job with angles. They were hitting the right gaps and forced our big guys to get in foul trouble. The coaches were very disappointed in us. It was good for (Jones) to get on us."

At his pre-practice press conference Friday, Jones was obviously still irked by his team's performance in Athens.

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"We gave up 91 points to a team averaging 68 or 69 points," Jones said. "Georgia generally shoots 40 percent and they shoot 60 percent. I know the caliber of team we are. We usually hold teams to 40 percent shooting. If we do that (Thursday), we come away with a victory.

"The players have to learn they have to hang their hats on playing defense if we are going to be a top-level team. We needed to go in a play extremely well to keep our winning streak going. But, the game we played yesterday is behind us. It's time to focus on the next game."

Auburn has won three consecutive games after starting the SEC schedule with six defeats. Auburn has the league's top scoring tandem in wings Chris Denson (19.8) and KT Harrell (19.5).

"Auburn has two great scorers," Coleman said. "We have to do the job defending and containing them the best we can. We're a great defensive team. We're long enough to defend the whole floor in our zone. Sometimes, we relax. We started off slow Thursday and tried to pick it up in the second half."

LSU needs to have a better second half of the conference schedule if it is going to be in the NCAA tournament picture.

"We have put ourselves in a hole coming off a couple of wins," Stringer said. "We get to play again, but we can't let us get beat by the same mistakes. We have to show we can bounce back Saturday."


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