Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and a voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year three times.
Ire of the Tiger: LSU’s Wade asks for more from team
LSU head coach Will Wade, center, talks with his players, from left, Charles Manning Jr., Darius Days (0), Skylar Mays, partially obscured, Trendon Watford (2) and Emmitt Williams (5) during a timeout in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019, in Baton Rouge, La. LSU won 75-65. (AP Photo/Bill Feig)
FAYETTEVILLE -- LSU Coach Will Wade had a stern message for his team after East Tennessee State -- coached by Southern Arkansas University graduate Steve Forbes -- came into the Maravich Assembly Center and beat the Tigers 74-63 on Dec. 18.
East Tennessee State is 13-3 and favored to win the Southern Conference, but the Buccaneers led LSU by as many as 23 points in stunning the defending SEC champion Tigers on their home court.
Arkansas men at LSU
WHEN 8 p.m. Central Wednesday
WHERE Maravich Assembly Center, Baton Rouge
RECORDS Arkansas 12-1, 1-0 SEC. LSU 9-4, 1-0.
SERIES Arkansas leads 36-31
RADIO Razorback Sports Network
"This has major implications," Wade said in his postgame news conference. "We have got our backs against the wall for the next three months now."
The Tigers (9-4, 1-0 SEC) lost at Southern California 70-68 in their next game, but since then have knocked Liberty from the unbeaten ranks with a 74-57 victory -- the Flames had been 14-0 and are now 16-1 -- at home and won 78-64 in their SEC opener at Tennessee.
But LSU's improved play hasn't caused Wade to change his approach going into the Tigers' game against the University of Arkansas (12-1, 1-0) at 8 p.m. Central on Wednesday in the Maravich Assembly Center.
"Our backs are still against the wall," Wade said Monday when he met with the media in Baton Rouge. "[Tennessee] was one win. We've won two games. We lost two in a row before that, now we've won two in a row, so alright.
"Our backs are against the wall from now until March. We better come out scratching, clawing. We've got a lot of work to do and a lot of areas to improve and get better.
"We'll keep that mentality. We've got to be urgent. We've got to be desperate. We've got to play with relentlessness. That's how we're going to be because that's how I am from now until March."
The Tigers have three new starters in 6-9 sophomore Emmitt Davis, 6-9 freshman Trendon Watford and 6-6 sophomore Darius Days with senior guard Marlon Taylor sidelined by a foot injury and Tremont Waters, Naz Reid and Kavell Bigby-Williams leaving the program early to pursue professional careers.
"It's two totally different teams," Wade said. "This is a lot different team than we had last year."
LSU 6-4 senior guard Skylar Mays, a four-year starter, is averaging a team-high 15.9 points after scoring 17 at Tennessee.
"Skylar is very stable, consistent, reliable, dependable, and any adjective you would like to use," Wade said. "He has a presence on our team ... He's locked in and talkative. He's helping the guys out and really engaging with them, which helps all of our players."
Javonte Smart, a 6-4 sophomore, has started every game this season after starting 18 last season and is averaging 11.0 points and 5.1 assists. He led the Tigers with 21 points at Tennessee by hitting 7 of 14 shots, including 5 of 9 three-pointers.
"'J's been good. He's been real good," Wade said. "He's playing to his capabilities. He made shots at a high level in the Tennessee game, which obviously helped us.
"But the main thing is his turnovers are down [to 2.8 per game], his assists are up. I think he has a better understanding of what we're asking him to do, who we're asking him to be.
"It's a fine line when you're a scoring point guard, which is what he is. As long as we're here, we'll always have scoring point guards. That's what I like. That's what Tremont was."
Williams is averaging 13.5 points and 7.1 rebounds, up from 7.0 and 5.4 last season.
"He's been playing extremely hard," Wade said. "We've got to keep him out of foul trouble, but he's so aggressive.
"He's a lot more skilled than people think. He's a good passer out of the post, he's made some jump shots and he does a great job finishing around the rim and screening. He's our best screener."
Williams fouled out in 22 minutes in the Tigers' 84-82 loss at Virginia Commonwealth and was limited to 17 minutes at USC and 20 minutes at Tennessee with four fouls. He has 34 fouls on the season.
Days is averaging 12.7 points and 8.0 rebounds. Watford, a McDonald's High School All-American from Birmingham, Ala., is averaging 12.8 points and 6.2 rebounds.
Aside from the East Tennessee game, the Tigers' other three losses to VCU, Utah State and USC have been by combined six points. The teams to beat LSU have a combined 50-13 record.
"Obviously, we would like to have a few more wins, but our schedule sets up good and it's been what we needed it to be," Wade said. "We need some of these guys that have beaten us to win games.
"I think we just have to win, but we certainly are at where we need to be numerically. We are a contender at this point and we just have to play it out and be consistent."
Sports on 01/07/2020
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