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Thursday, February 14, 2008

What's this, a basketball season?

Suddenly, LSU may be a favorite. Suddenly, for the first time this year, LSU is the hotter team. Suddenly, there may be some interest in LSU men's basketball.

The Tigers (9-14, 2-7 Southeastern Conference) will be coming off easily their most impressive victory of the season - 85-73 at Florida Wednesday night - when they play a very average Kentucky team (12-10, 6-3 SEC) Saturday at noon in the Maravich Assembly Center.

The Wildcats, on the other hand, fell in embarrassing fashion Tuesday at Vanderbilt 93-52. Not since a 55-point loss to Kansas on Dec. 9, 1989, has Kentucky lost by more. That was the first year of the rebuilding project under coach Rick Pitino, who inherited a program on probation. The 41-point loss at Vandy is the fifth worst loss in the proud history of the Wildcats.

They'll come into the Maravich Assembly Center under first-year coach Billy Gillispie searching for answers. Wonder if he'll last the season? Gillispie, by the way, has two losses to fired LSU coach John Brady as Texas A&M's coach - one in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 2006 and one last season.

Meanwhile, LSU has new life and a new season under interim coach Butch Pierre. Pierre replaced Brady last week and nearly toppled No. 7 Tennessee, but fell 47-45.
"I'm hoping we have a lot of fans at the game," an elated Pierre said after beating Florida. "These kids deserve it. These kids have gone through a lot of adversity."

They didn't look like it. Not since knocking off No. 1 Duke and Texas to reach the Final Four in 2006 has LSU had such a startling victory as its 85-73 win at Florida Wednesday night. LSU led from the outset and by 41-33 at the half. Only in brief instances down the stretch did Florida appear like it could take the lead. Point guard Garrett Temple had to leave when he cut his upper lip in a collision, and the Gators immediately made a 7-0 run to get close. Temple quickly returned with a bandage over his lip like a mustache and keyed a 9-0 LSU run to put the game away.

Temple, who was never much of a Brady fan, looked like a man possessed.

LSU shot a torrid 60 percent from the field and limited Florida's 3-point attack with solid defense. Pierre, by the way, did have a hand in the defensive game plan for that Duke game.

That's two games now where the Tigers appear to have a newfound spirit, though they were playing better in the last two games under Brady as they won at Auburn and played well in losing at Alabama.

"I just think the kids are learning," Pierre said. "They carried through with the scouting report."

If LSU keeps winning, LSU may interview Pierre for the vacant job for more reasons than politeness.


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