Will Wade wanted to hammer home the point that this has been a long, grueling season for LSU basketball. The Tigers are gearing up for the home stretch of its regular season with two of its final three games on the road against top 25 talent.
After the regular season ends, LSU will head for the SEC tournament and then, if all goes according to play, the NCAA tournament. The Tigers will not be returning to Baton Rouge until after their season is over so the team is gearing for a long trip on the road, starting with No. 20 Arkansas on Saturday.
It's why Wade and the coaching staff are trying to strike a balance between keeping the locker room light and at the same time staying focused and continuing to improve.
"We’ve gotta keep our guys fresh, we’ve gotta keep our guys excited to play. This has been a grueling season. We’ve gotta keep the happiness quotient high," Wade said. "Certainly there’s some things I wasn’t happy about with our energy, our effort, our enthusiasm. Those things need to be addressed but also we’re coming down the homestretch, we’re positioned to finish strong."
This is a prime opporunity for the Tigers to earn a Quad 1 win against the hottest team in the SEC. The Razorbacks have won their last five games, including victories over No. 24 Missouri, Florida and No. 6 Alabama.
Under coach Eric Musselman, Arkansas has been one of the more physical teams in the SEC over the last two years and have given the Tigers fits over the last few seasons. Will Wade admitted before the team's first matchup that Arkansas was one of the few teams the coaching staff thoroughly during the offseason.
Guard Moses Moody leads the Razorbacks in scoring with 16.5 per game for an offense that's No. 2 in the SEC in scoring at 82.4 points per game and is making the third most free throws as well. Four Arkansas players are averaging double figures in points while guard Jalen Tate is averaging the third most assists in the conference at 4.3 a contest.
"I think defensively they're much improved. I think the kids, I'm not going to say bought in more, but they follow the scouting report and follow the direction of the coaches and taking away the other team's strengths is better than anybody in our league," Wade said. "Just the more belief we have in everything. I think they're playing with unbelievable belief, unbelievable confidence, and it's a credit to coach Musselman and his staff. I think he's done a great job."
LSU (14-7, 9-5) seemed to be turning a corner after winning three straight but turning in its worst performance of the season against Georgia. It was a step back for a team hoping to dramatically improve its NCAA tournament standing.
"It was an embarrassing performance, we got whipped every way we could get whipped," Wade said. "All of our poor habits came out and they were more physical, they beat us to loose ball, they played with a better spirit than we did. Just an all systems breakdown and as disappointing a night as we've had."
The Tigers inconsistency has been an area that's been talked about all season and the team has had some success agains Eric Musselman's Arkansas squad. Back on Jan. 13, the Tigers rode a strong first half start to a 92-76 with a combined 71 points from the "Big Four" of Cam Thomas, Javonte Smart, Trendon Watford and Darius Days.
LSU has a list of goals it wants to accomplish over these next three games against the Razorbacks, Vanderbilt and Missouri. The first goal is earning a double bye for the SEC tournament and that can only happen by winning two of the next three games.
Starting with a big road win in Fayetteville would be step one but Wade knows its much easier said than done.
"It'd obviously be a big, big win for us. A Quad 1 road win over one of the hottest teams in the country, not just the conference," Wade said. "How many teams in the country have been on a winning streak like this? I think it'd be a big feather in our cap, but we've got a lot of work to do."