No. 22 LSU is ranked for the first time in 10 weeks.
The Tigers (15-4) remain the last undefeated team in SEC play at 6-0 as they prepare to host Alabama (12-7, 4-2) on Wednesday in Baton Rouge, La.
LSU, which was also No. 22 in the preseason poll, dropped out of the rankings after an 84-82 loss at VCU in the second game of the season. Three of the Tigers’ four losses have come by two points, but they have excelled in close games recently as their last six wins have come by four or fewer points.
“It’s not always pretty, but we find a way and we dig it out and we make big plays when we need to,” LSU coach Will Wade said, according to The Advocate. “Our guys have been doing that all year, and that’s a trait we want to continue.”
Senior guard Skylar Mays said the Tigers feel “pretty comfortable” when games are decided in the final moments.
“We’ve won most of (the close games),” Mays said, according to The Advocate, “so just having that confidence at the end of the game and knowing what it takes to win is definitely helping us out.”
That confidence came in handy in LSU’s last game as freshman Trendon Watford made two free throws with 20 seconds left to help secure a 69-67 victory at Texas last Saturday in a Big 12/SEC Challenge game.
“He puts the work in every day,” Mays said. “He’s always shooting free throws after practice with coach Wade. He focuses on it and takes pride in it.
“At this point, we kind of expect him to make those two free throws. Credit to him and the work that he’s putting in.”
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The Crimson Tide have been one of the hotter teams in the SEC, winning league games against Auburn, Missouri and Vanderbilt before defeating visiting Kansas State 77-74 last Saturday for their fourth consecutive victory.
Alabama has played fewer tight games, with less success in them than LSU. The Crimson Tide were 0-3 in games decided by six or fewer points before edging Kansas State.
“It was good to get a close win,” Alabama coach Nate Oats said. “We need to be in some close games and feel like we can win them. We had to take care of the ball late, hit some free throws late and get some stops late. I’m proud of the guys for that.”
The Crimson Tide won despite taking 31 fewer shots than the Wildcats.
“That’s not usually a recipe for winning games,” Oats said.
But Alabama shot 48.8 percent from the floor and Kansas State shot 35.1 percent. The Tide also outscored the Wildcats by 15 points on free throws.
“There’s a lot of stuff to learn from the game,” Oats said. “The offensive rebounds that we gave up (22) were disastrous and could’ve cost us the game. We have to clean that up. Turnovers were still too high (16). We have to get a lot of stuff cleaned up before the LSU game. Hopefully the guys will be mature enough to know that we have to fix a lot of things, even though we won.”