No. 4 Alabama has its sights set on winning the SEC championship, while LSU is just trying to find its way under first-year head coach Matt McMahon as it faces the Crimson Tide on Saturday afternoon in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Alabama (14-2, 4-0 SEC) faced its biggest conference test to date when it visited No. 15 Arkansas on Wednesday night and prevailed 84-69.
“Tough road win,” Alabama coach Nate Oats said. “Our guys showed that they’ve got some toughness, character and some grit.
“Couldn’t be more proud of them. Continue to get better every game. We’ve just got to keep getting a little bit better every game, staying in this hunt for the SEC championship.”
The victory was Alabama’s third on the road against a ranked team, joining wins against No. 1 Houston and then-No. 21 Mississippi State.
“After we beat Houston at Houston, I think our guys had some confidence they could win anywhere,” Oats said. “We’ve been good in tough games. … I thought our schedule in the nonconference really prepared us.”
Alabama went on a 16-4 run midway through the second half and a 13-0 run late to take command. The Tide scored 19 of the game’s final 25 points.
Brandon Miller entered the game as the top scorer in the SEC (19.1) points per game, didn’t attempt a shot in a scoreless first half and yet finished with 14 points. Noah Clowney added 15 and Mark Sears led the way with a game-high 26 points.
“He always comes ready to play,” Oats said of Sears. “We needed somebody to score the ball, and he was scoring for us. Sears can make shots. We need him to shoot it.”
LSU (12-4, 1-3) was 11-1 against a relatively soft pre-conference schedule and upset Arkansas in its SEC opener. But the Tigers have lost their last three and have struggled offensively.
They were outscored by visiting Florida 42-28 in the second half of a 67-56 loss on Tuesday.
“We have to re-evaluate how we can get some higher-quality looks that we’re more capable of making,” McMahon said after LSU shot 29 percent (9-of-31) from the floor in the second half, missing all 11 of its 3-pointers. “Our last two games we have 31 turnovers, and that’s just not going to give us a chance.”
Florida scored 23 points off LSU’s 16 turnovers. The Gators outscored the Tigers 24-13 at the foul line.
“Our ability to protect the paint was not effective, and I think that shows in the free-throw line,” McMahon said.
KJ Williams scored a game-high 23 points, but he was the only LSU scorer in double figures.
“As a team we have to come together,” Williams said. “Come in and talk about whatever and get through whatever as a team instead of wandering off as one and having small groups. Our leaders, me as well, have to come in and help the team to build it to where, when we are down, can put that to the side and keep playing and pushing through adversity.”
–Field Level Media