Razorback basketball report: LSU had extra time to prepare for Arkansas

LSU coach Matt McMahon talks to guard Jalen Cook during the first half of the team's NCAA college basketball game against Ole Miss in Baton Rouge, La., Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton)

LSU Coach Matt McMahon spoke a couple of times this week about his program’s ability to do a deeper self scout with the Tigers having an open date early in the week.

The Tigers (11-9, 3-4 SEC) have lost three games in a row heading into today’s 11 a.m. tip against Arkansas (11-10, 2-6).

After a 3-1 start in conference play that began with a dominant 68-53 win at Texas A&M, the Tigers fell 73-69 to the Aggies in the return game at the Maravich Assembly Center, then lost 68-66 at Georgia and 109-88 at Alabama last week.

McMahon said key areas of focus during the week have been tightening up shot selection and decision-making on offense, and playing better transition defense. 

“On the offensive side, it’s eliminating the unforced turnovers and the poor shot selection early in possessions,” McMahon said Thursday. “You look in the last 12 seconds of our possessions against Alabama, we averaged 1.35 points per possession, which is really, really elite from an execution standpoint. 

“But in the first seven seconds of the possession, we were very poor, because we forced some things, took bad shots.”

McMahon said those decisions “fueled the second thing I would cover, our transition defense. This league is just so athletic and so talented that if you let teams get an advantage in the open floor, you’re in big trouble.”

Finally, McMahon said the Tigers have to stay away from bad fouls.

Georgia went 19 for 24 (.792) at the charity stripe and Alabama was 25 of 28 (.893).

Arkansas leads the SEC and ranks sixth nationally with 25.9 free throws attempted per game.

“The third thing, and it plays right into this game, we’re sending our opponents to the free-throw line way too much,” he said. “And Arkansas is top five [six] in the country in getting to the free-throw line, so fouls are going to be part of the game. We want to be physical, we want to be aggressive. But we’ve had some undisciplined fouls that really start to take their toll.”

Mark time

LSU Coach Matt McMahon is concerned about the impact Arkansas guard Tramon Mark could have in the game.

“One difference with Mark, the transfer from Houston, he’s averaging 19 a game in league play,” McMahon said. “He’s gone to the free line 50 times in league play [41 of 50] just through seven games. He’s really an elite scorer. Lefty, he can get to his spots and raise up and score.”

Board numbers

Arkansas has been out-rebounded in 11 of 21 games and carries a minus-0.8 rebounding margin into today’s game at LSU.

The Razorbacks are 8-2 when beating their opponent on the boards, with the losses coming against Memphis (+9) and Kentucky (+5).

Arkansas has won the rebounding department in its last two games, a 63-57 loss to Kentucky and a 91-84 win at Missouri in which the Hogs held a 35-26 rebounding edge.

Packed lines

Forwards Makhi Mitchell and Jalen Graham are coming off strong performances.

Mitchell is working on back-to-back double-doubles, including a career-high-tying 19 points and 14 rebounds in Wednesday’s 91-84 win at Missouri.

Graham stuffed the stat sheet against Missouri with 13 points and team highs with 4 assists, 4 steals and 3 blocked shots. 

Doubling up

Arkansas is in the midst of playing four consecutive teams it will face twice in the season. The Razorbacks just finished first meetings against Kentucky and Missouri, and will host a return game against Georgia one week from today.

Georgia notched a 76-66 win over the Razorbacks at Stegeman Coliseum on Jan. 10 in Athens, Ga. 

The Razorbacks and LSU have been two-time opponents most of the time since Arkansas joined the SEC. The teams played only once in 2013 and 2015 before becoming two-game partners again in 2016 and ever since.

The Razorbacks have pulled off 11 season sweeps over LSU, including their first 5 seasons after joining the league as part of an 11-game winning streak in the series. The Hogs also have a pair of 3-game sweeps, in 2001 and 2022 with SEC Tournament wins in Nashville, Tenn., and Tampa, Fla., respectively.

Arkansas had the first 7 regular-season sweeps in the series before LSU got its first of 5 sweeps in 2000. The Tigers had a chance for a 3-game sweep that year but their 10th-ranked team was upset 69-67 at the SEC Tournament in Atlanta by an Arkansas team en route to its only SEC Tournament title. LSU, which has never won 3 games in a season in the series, also swept in 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2009. 

Series update

Arkansas holds a 42-35 lead in the all-time series with LSU, including a 38-30 mark since joining the SEC for the 1991-92 season. 

The Razorbacks are 23-8 at home, 13-20 on the road and 6-7 at neutral sites.

Arkansas has a 6-4 record against the Tigers under Coach Eric Musselman, and LSU is 1-1 in the series under second-year Coach Matt McMahon.

The Razorbacks have won four of the last five games.

Musselman was an assistant coach for Johnny Jones for a dramatic 81-78 win in over the No. 18 Hogs in Fayetteville on Keith Hornsby’s three-point shot at the buzzer over the out-stretched hand of Michael Qualls on March 7, 2015.

Smart talk

Arkansas assistant coach Keith Smart is a native of Baton Rouge, La., who had one of his biggest coaching moments in his hometown two years ago. 

With Eric Musselman sidelined after rotator cuff surgery, Smart served as acting head coach for a 65-58 upset win over the No. 12 Tigers on Jan. 15, 2022.

Wright stuff

LSU guard Jordan Wright had his high school jersey retired at The Dunham School in Baton Rouge, La., early in the week. 

Wright, a transfer from Vanderbilt, leads the Tigers with 15.7 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. He is the team leader with 41 steals, 53 assists, 80 defensive rebounds, 53 fouls and 624 minutes.

The 6-6, 230-pound guard, who wears No. 6, has scored in double figures in 17 consecutive games.

He signed with Vanderbilt and scored 1,182 points in four seasons with the Commodores before transferring back to his home area.

Transfer talk

The Tigers have four players on their roster who played previously at another SEC program.

In addition to Jordan Wright, the four-year Vanderbilt standout, LSU has guard Tre Hannibal and forwards Damion Collins and Derek Fountain on the roster.

Hannibal scored 659 points in two seasons at South Carolina to start his career. Collins had 125 points in two seasons at Kentucky. Fountain amassed 148 points and 101 rebounds in two years at Mississippi State to open his career.

Tip-ins

• Arkansas and LSU played four times in calendar year 2022. The Razorbacks swept regular-season meetings 65-58 in Baton Rouge and 77-76 in Fayetteville, and won 79-67 win at the SEC Tournament in Tampa. LSU won a conference opener 60-57 at home on Dec. 28, 2022.

• The ESPN2 broadcast team is scheduled to be John Schiffren on play-by-play and former Auburn standout Daymeon Fishback as analyst. 

• LSU Coach Matt McMahon’s family can be described as the “M” team, with wife Mary and their children Maris, Mason and Mabry.