LSU reacts to SEC Tournament draw

Jones, LSU play 'Bama on Thursday (USA Today)

With a loss Saturday to close out the regular season, LSU will be the seven seed heading into the SEC Tournament in Atlanta next week. Several Tiger players and coach Johnny Jones previewed the conference tourney, including LSU's opener versus Alabama.

Following a home loss to Georgia to end the regular season, LSU (18-12, 9-9) now faces the reality that it's boom or bust at the SEC Tournament in Atlanta next week.

The Tigers must win the single-elimination conference tourney, a four-game trek, to advance to the NCAA Tournament and likely have a little work to do to secure a berth in the NIT.

LSU, now locked in as the seventh seed, will begin its stay in the ATL with a tilt against 10-seed Alabama (13-18, 7-11) Thursday night at 7 p.m. EST in the Georgia Dome. The Tigers dropped an 82-80 decision in Tuscaloosa Jan. 25, the only other time the two teams met this season.

It's not something LSU players have forgotten.

"It's definitely an opportunity we have to take advantage of," junior Johnny O'Bryant said Saturday night in the wake of the Tigers' 69-61 loss to Georgia. "‘Bama beat us by a hair at their place, so we've just got to dig down and get tougher at this point.

"It's a new season. You win four games down there, and you're in the dance. Anything's possible. We've just got to keep our heads high and keep fighting."

Head coach Johnny Jones voiced a similar sentiment in his postgame remarks, stressing that LSU has a chance to move forward in the tournament by getting even with the Tide.

"We're fortunate we've got an opportunity to (play) a team we had a setback against earlier this year," explained Jones. "I thought it was a hard-fought battle at their place, where we came up a little short. We look forward to another great opportunity and challenge against this Alabama basketball team."

Several LSU players, including junior Anthony Hickey and freshman Jarell Martin, maintained part of being ready for the SEC Tournament is getting as much separation as possible, and quickly, from Saturday's Georgia loss. They're seeking a blank-slate mentality.

"We've got to look past this game and focus on what's coming ahead of us," said Martin. "We've got to focus on the Alabama game and getting tuned into it."

Hickey's two cents: "We've got to come out and make the first punch. We're going to leave this game behind us and move forward right away. We've already played Alabama, so we know what they can do. We've just got to come do what we do."

O'Bryant added that, no matter who LSU would've drawn to start the tournament, there's one trait above all others this team has to take on and exude should the Tigers desire a run in Atlanta.

"Toughness," O'Bryant repeated several times consecutively. "We've got to compete, win 50-50 balls, out-rebound teams, stop teams. By the time you get to that fourth day, your legs are a little sore and your body's a little beaten up. It's all about pushing through."

One thing not even remotely on the mind of any Tiger is which side of the bracket LSU has landed on, which is to say the non-Florida half.

An LSU win against Alabama would push the Bayou Bengals into a Friday night showdown with second-seeded Kentucky. Win there, and Jones' squad would face either Georgia or Ole Miss or possibly a lower-seed team on Saturday.

Still, whether protected from Florida, which wrapped up an unblemished 18-0 SEC record, until Sunday or not, LSU's players say they could care less.

"Not really," answered O'Bryant when asked if LSU's draw opposite Florida is favorable. "Credit to Florida, they went 18-0 in the conference and they're playing really great … But anybody can be beaten on any given day, as you saw when Ole Miss beat Florida last year in the championship. You've got to keep fighting and whatever happens, happens."

To the Tigers' head coach, it's all about getting the opportunity to start fresh one last time.

"It's the third season for us," levelled Jones. "We can push aside what's transpired (up until) now. We've got to make sure that we're prepared for a really tough conference tournament, but it's one of the most exciting times for college basketball, I think. Everybody is going in there with an opportunity to either win three, four or five games. You put yourself in the position for something special to happen."

The next week will tell if LSU is capable of any such magic.


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