By LARRY VAUGHT
LSU (18-7, 9-3) had a 10-game win streak and was 8-0 in Southeastern Conference play before losing three of its last four games to Vanderbilt, Auburn and Alabama.
Now the Tigers host Kentucky (20-5, 10-2) on Tuesday night with first place in the SEC at stake. Kentucky is 8-1 in its last nine games and has gone 12-2 since losing back to back games in Las Vegas before Christmas.
“We’re just in a little bit of a rut right here, and we’ve got to start playing better. If we don’t play much better than we did Saturday (at Alabama), it’s going to be a long night (against Kentucky),” LSU coach Will Wade
Kentucky assistant coach Tony Barbee was asked Monday if he thought LSU might play like a “wounded animal” after the recent losses.
“I think if you look at the conference and the parity in the conference, any given night there is not a lot of separation. Anybody can beat anybody on any end of the floor, and it’s not like, all right they’re two (wins out of) five and three of the losses they’ve lost by 35 each. That’s not what happened,” Barbee said.
“They have been in a lot of close games all year long in the conference. They have won their fair share obviously and naturally it’s going to go the other way against you a couple times.
“But they are a fantastic team and we know what a challenge it is going on the road, especially to a place like Baton Rouge, like the arena down at LSU.”
Kentucky senior Nate Sestina said Monday even though he’s never played there he understands “it’s a tough place to play” even though surprisingly the game was still not a sellout on Sunday.
“They’re playing well. Another hard game for us. End of the season, playing teams like this is good for us, especially going into the conference tournament, get a little bit of momentum going to it,” Sestina said. “But it is a challenge. You have a bunch of guys that can play, a bunch of guys that can rebound the ball well.
“They’re bigger, a little bigger with their guards. So, it’s just a big time matchup for us and for our guards to be able to step up and play.”
Barbee says LSU’s offense is potent with all five starters averaging in double figures.
“They’re averaging significant double figures. They’re a fantastic rebounding team on the offensive end of the floor,” Barbee said. “They’ve traditionally been since Will has been there. They will shoot it and then they go get it.
“They shoot the 3. They drive the ball. They’ve got a couple guys that can post up. (Trendon) Watford is a matchup problem at the three. So, it’s the reason why they’re a fantastic offensive team because they’ve got a lot of interchangeable parts that can do a lot of different things.”