By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
NEW ORLEANS – LSU may not be NCAA Tournament bound, unless it can reel off three consecutive wins in as many days, but for the Tigers, they moved one step closer towards one of their most important goals with a 70-54 victory against Arkansas on Thursday in the opening-round of the Southeastern Conference Tournament at New Orleans Arena.
LSU, which won its 18th game of the season on Thursday, is in the midst of a solid turnaround that has positioned the Tigers for their first winning season and likely their first postseason berth since their SEC Championship season of 2008-09.
They will face a tall order on Friday when they square off with SEC regular-season champion Kentucky, the nation’s top-ranked team, in a quarterfinal matchup. LSU head coach Trent Johnson knows that in order for his team to achieve that feat, they will simply have to be willing to put in the hard work to make it possible.
That was his message to his team following a 74-69 overtime loss to Tennessee, the Tigers’ second consecutive defeat in a row.
“We put ourselves in this situation, it’s our responsibility to get out of it, and if you want to continue to play, it’s on you,” Johnson said in his post-game press conference on Thursday afternoon. “And it’s not about anything a coach can say or do. It’s about you being mentally tough enough to go out and do the right things all the time, which is put a body on somebody, box out, rebound and make shots.”
Three letters were continually referenced in questions to Johnson and LSU players during their most recent press conference.
Short for National Invitation Tournament, an event that LSU hopes to be playing in next week if it isn’t fortunate enough to advance to the NCAA Tournament field.
Have the Tigers done enough to have already locked in a postseason bid?
“I’m not the person that should answer that question,” LSU’s senior forward Storm Warren said. “But we would like to continue playing our season. I know I would like to continue my season. As a senior, I’m not looking forward to it ending regardless of tomorrow. We would love to be competing at the end of the day.”
LSU lost 74-50 in its earlier-season meeting with Kentucky on Jan. 28. Still, the Tigers are focused on making the necessary corrections in order to challenge the Wildcats in tomorrow’s meeting.
“We’ve got the No. 1 team coming back and it’s in our backyard this time,” LSU freshman guard Anthony Hickey, a Hopkinsville, Ky., native said. “We’re going to execute more, adjust to what we messed up on the last game, and it’s going to be another great game.”
As for tomorrow’s outcome, the Tigers are focused only on what they can control in the game in front of them.
“I’m not caught up in [being] Cinderella,” Johnson said. “I just know the challenge for us is huge. And I don’t worry about the NIT, because there’s a lot of basketball to be played. You control your own destiny in how well you play and if you’re able to win.”