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Saturday, March 14, 2009


BATON ROUGE - LSU needs to do more shooting drills.
The Tigers shot below 40 percent for the fourth consecutive game Saturday afternoon and lost for the third time out of those four games, 67-57 to Mississippi State in the semifinals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, Fla.
Tasmin Mitchell was 7 of 18 from the field for 38 percent. Marcus Thornton was 5 of 19 for 26 percent. Bo Spencer was 1 of 5 for 20 percent. Those are the Tigers' best offensive weapons, and they were all off. State did not shoot much better but dominated the inside as center Jarvis Varnado made LSU center Chris Johnson look bad as he scored 19 points with seven rebounds and seven blocked shots. Johnson scored two points.
Tired of hearing how bad the SEC is from national media. Well, the national media was proven right in this game. There was the pride of the SEC this season in a semifinal league tournament game, and the game was very hard to watch. State (22-12) beat the league champion, but unless it wins Sunday in the SEC tournament title game against the Auburn-Tennessee winner, it will be NIT bound.
LSU has not been able to buy a bucket for the most part since Mitchell hit a jumper to beat Kentucky in Rupp Arena back on Feb. 28. The defense has been very good. The rebounding has been very good. The game plans have been very good. LSU just needs to practice its outside shooting and practice it again.
The Tigers looked poor at times Saturday and anything but a champion of a major conference. But the NCAA Tournament has a way of washing all the refuse of a long, hard regular season away. Losing on Saturday could end up helping LSU very much.
Sure, it would have been exciting to watch the Tigers play in the SEC Tournament championship game on Sunday for the first time since 1993. Winning it would have been very impressive as well. LSU has never won the SEC regular season title and the tournament title in the same season. That would have been something. A banner's a banner, and there is room for more in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
But LSU is not a very deep team. A 1-1 showing in Tampa may be the best recipe for future success. Often, when you are the league champion already and already NCAA Tournament bound, it's better to win one game in the SEC Tournament, lose the next one, get out of town, get some rest, exhale, watch the NCAA Selecton Show and then start the real season - March Madness.
The last three times LSU reached the Final Four in 2006, 1986 and 1981, it went 1-1 in the SEC Tournament and moved on to bigger and better things. It did the same thing in 2000 when it last reached the NCAA Sweet 16, which is a reasonable goal this season. You work up a sweat and make a good showing with a win in that first game, then you get out of there and regroup.
It was 20 years ago, but I'll never forget Florida coach Norm Sloan whining about having to play in the SEC Tournament championship game in 1989 in Knoxville, Tenn. His team won the regular season and had the NCAA bid locked up, but it looked tired and it was getting injured as it won its first two SEC Tournament games. He obviously didn't feel like playing a third game in three days on Sunday. He didn't care about some trophy. And he lost the next day. And he lost by 22 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to Colorado State.
"The silver lining in all this is we're going to get back, get a day and a half off and get ready for the NCAA Tournament," LSU coach Trent Johnson said after the loss.
LSU will be fresh again Thursday or Friday when it plays again, and it will not have to play a team it has already beaten twice this season. Everything will be new, and if LSU can stay away from teams with very good centers and get at least one guy shooting well a game, the Tigers could make some noise.
Get your brackets ready. Christmas is almost here.


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