By Tyler Nunez
As the regular season nears its end and the days until March quickly begin to dwindle, the LSU men’s basketball team once again finds itself on the bubble of the NCAA Tournament.
After a 70-63 win over Florida on Saturday, only a handful of games remain on the Tigers’ regular season schedule and they are still trying to prove that they are worthy of a spot in the Big Dance. It’s something that the program hasn’t been invited to since 2009.
“You can’t just let it deplete you because we have big games, and they’re all very important.”
– LSU shooting guard Keith Hornsby
– LSU shooting guard Keith Hornsby
Due to an up-and-down regular season, LSU hasn’t left much room for error as the end is coming to a close.
“With what we’re trying to do, these last several games are really important for us, and it’s going to be important that we’re playing the right way,” said LSU coach Johnny Jones. “Wins have to be our focus and certainly on our minds now.”
LSU has had some high moments this season such as defeating then-No. 16 West Virginia on the road and nearly becoming the first team to knock off No. 1 Kentucky.
But it has also experienced a few lows, recording losses against the bottom two teams in the SEC in Auburn and Missouri and going through a recent stretch in which it lost four of six contests.
“It’s very taxing just because of how much work we put in and how much we care,” said junior guard Keith Hornsby. “But at the same time, you can’t just let it deplete you because we have big games, and they’re all very important.”
The Tigers will look to put another positive bullet point on their résumé when they welcome Ole Miss to the Pete Maravich Assembly Center on Saturday. The two teams met in January, where LSU escaped Oxford with a 75-71 win.
But the Rebels have become a different team since then, having won 9 of their last 11 games
But whether it’s a team on fire or struggling, the Tigers know that they can’t take any opponent lightly at this point in the season.
“No matter who we play, we can’t overlook anybody,” said LSU sophomore guard Tim Quarterman. “This is the SEC and everybody is looking for a win. We have to go out there and play hard every play.”
Hornsby believes there is a definite sense of urgency in the locker room as the season winds down.
“We had to have a little meeting before the Tennessee game about the [NCAA] Tournament,” Hornsby recalled of a moment before the Tigers’ 73-55 thumping of the Volunteers.
“So we all know about it. Obviously, it’s in the back of all our minds.”
LSU will get another crack at Tennessee at home three days after hosting the Rebels.
But while it would seem playing at home would be an advantage for LSU, the PMAC has been far from an impenetrable force for the Tigers this season, who have lost three conference home games, including a loss to lowly Auburn.
“We can’t let guys come in here and beat us on our home court and in our house,” said sophomore forward Jordan Mickey. “It’s something we have to protect and value at all times.”
Finally, LSU will finish its regular season in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where it will take on No. 18 Arkansas in one of its biggest tests of the year before moving on the SEC Tournament, which will be the Tigers’ last chance to impress the NCAA tournament selection committee.
But the Tigers have not even begun to think about either of those challenges. Right now, they’re focused on their next opponent, and their next opponent only. Focus is key.
“We really have to focus on one game at a time now,” Hornsby said. If you look too far forward, you stop thinking about the little things for each game, and those are critical at this time.”