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LSU Facing Defensively Elite Tennessee For Second Time in SEC Play

Tigers and Volunteers both in must win situations to keep head above water in SEC race

It's been a long 72 hours for LSU basketball but the Tigers face another tough road battle against a familiar team Saturday evening in Knoxville. 

Much like the Alabama game Wednesday, LSU and Tennessee are two programs in need of conference wins with both sitting at 3-3 just about a third of the way through the SEC schedule.

Because of plane trouble after the Alabama game, LSU was forced to fly straight from Tuscaloosa to Knoxville instead of coming back to Baton Rouge. The team spent most of Thursday catching up on some much needed rest before practicing at a local high school Friday to start preparing for the Tennessee game. 

The Volunteers are the first team LSU will face a second time on its schedule, a situation that the Tigers must prepare for down at least one key player in Xavier Pinson, who is unlikely to play. Two weeks ago the Tigers knocked off the Volunteers 79-67, one of their better offensive performances of the season but did lose Pinson in the win as well. 

Facing a team twice in two weeks has its advantages and disadvantages, with both of these programs being elite on the defensive end throughout 2021.

There will be some strategic differences the Tigers approach round two with Tennessee with Wade already noticing some significant differences from the Volunteers team they faced just two weeks ago in the PMAC.

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"You've gotta change things if you win or lose," Wade said. "Rick Barnes has won 700 games so they're gonna do a bunch of stuff. If we do the same stuff we did, they'll be 100% prepared for everything. They tend to change their ball screen coverages, they've got a money play they use. They gave us some problems against our post trap, isolated some mismatches which led to some fouling so we've got to get all of that corrected."

Without Pinson in the lineup, LSU has seen guards Eric Gaines, Brandon Murray and Justice Williams play more minutes than they have all season. It's an unavoidable issue that Wade acknowledged has led to some inconsistent play down the stretch of the last few games with fatigue setting in. 

All have been solid, with Gaines and Murray even sparking that 14-1 run at the end of the Alabama game to tie it down the stretch. It's sequences and runs like that which give the team momentum and confidence they can hang with most teams in the conference. 

With that being said, Wade and his team are chomping at the bit to get this team healthy and back to full strength sooner than later, with a set goal of sometime over the next week. 

"We still haven't lost a game when we've had our full roster," Wade said. "We were without Murray and haven't had X so I'm very confident about our group. I like our group a lot and when we have everybody, we're gonna be in great shape. A lot of times we're putting lineups out there we haven't practiced with so that's been a challenge."

The schedule won't get much easier moving forward so the experience young players like Gaines, Murray, Williams, Efton Reid and Alex Fudge are getting right now will really benefit this program for the long haul. 

But the chase for the SEC crown with Auburn, Kentucky and Texas A&M all at one loss or fewer makes each and every game moving forward critical.