|Monday, December 23
No time for LSU to let up
By Andy Katz
LSU coach John Brady will let his players enjoy Christmas. But that's it. Once they return Thursday to a 6 p.m. practice, he's going to mess with their minds.
He has to. The LSU coach is genuinely concerned about his players being too complacent for Saturday's game against Tulane in New Orleans -- which will come exactly one week after the Tigers beat the No. 1 team in the country in Arizona in Baton Rouge.
"I'm going to make them feel uncomfortable," Brady said. "Take a guy like Jamie Lloreda. He's from Panama. He doesn't know anything about the Tulane-LSU rivalry. We haven't played them since 1982, but it still means something to the local guys from Louisiana. If we don't come out and play well, we'll be had."
Brady got a jump on his post-Christmas plans by making the team practice Sunday morning. He brought in a priest to talk to the team, preach really, about looking forward and not resting too much on past success. Brady then told his players they can certainly appreciate their 7-1 start, but not to feel satisfied.
Then he made them sweat by going through a rigorous practice. Thursday will include more sweat, not to mention a few more mind games.
"It's my job to screw with them Thursday to get this team uncomfortable," Brady said. "If we lose Saturday then we've diminished what we did against Arizona. We found the core of our team against Arizona. Nobody thought we would win this game, even with Arizona playing without Luke Walton."
The win over Arizona validated Brady's bitter rebuilding process, which has seen the Tigers go from a Sweet 16 team in 2000 to a program that struggled to reach .500 the next season due in part to early NBA defections, not to mention, NCAA penalties that included scholarship restrictions. The Tigers won 28 games in 1999-2000, 13 the next after Stromile Swift bolted. LSU managed 19 wins last season and reached the NIT second round.
This year, the Tigers have shown they are a legit NCAA sleeper team. But before taking down Arizona, even that looked sketchy after LSU lost to Texas A&M by two in Houston last month. But, that loss was also before anyone outside College Station knew that the Aggies could be dangerous as well this season.
Since losing to Texas A&M, LSU has whittled itself down to its reliable players after reserve forward Shawnson Johnson quit the team during halftime of a game earlier this month. The Tigers knew their strength -- guard play with Torris Bright, Ronald Dupree, Antonio Hudson and Collis Temple III. The unknown was Lloreda. But the junior college transfer was dominant with a double-double against the Wildcats. Brady also moved Dupree back to small forward, instead of using him on the wing, where he struggled to make 3s (14.3 percent).
"He hasn't shot a 3 since we came back from A&M," Brady said. "We've got him doing what he does best, slashing and driving toward the goal. We didn't have the team we wanted in Houston. Now we do.
"We're not a great team. Nobody talks about LSU having first-round draft choices. We have a good college basketball team and good college basketball players. What we do is defend and rebound."
The statement the Tigers made by beating Arizona was more about the SEC, rather than LSU, according to Brady. LSU was picked third in the SEC West behind Alabama and Mississippi State. SEC East teams Kentucky, Florida and Georgia were also ahead of LSU in any preseason predictions. Those predictions, along with LSU's win Saturday, say all there needs to be said about the SEC's depth.
But, LSU doesn't have time to celebrate the Arizona win. Following Tulane and a game against New Orleans, the Tigers open the SEC season at Georgia before coming back to Baton Rouge for a non-conference game against Houston. LSU then travels to Starkville to play Mississippi State.
"It's not like we've moved past the hill," Brady said. "It's still out there and we've got plenty of climbing to do."
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.