Preview: LSU Basketball Facing "Familiar" Florida Team for Second Time This Season
The LSU-Florida rivalry extends to all sports between the two universities. Whether it's football, basketball or baseball, the programs just have a knack for playing each other closely.
Just take the last four meetings between the two schools on the hard wood into account. Those games have been decided by a combined 11 points with each school winning two games a piece.
"They’ve all been kind of different games. Some games Florida shot it well. Just two teams that are very familiar with each other," coach Will Wade said. "We played them three times last year. It seems like they are one of our permanent partners although they are not one of our permanent rivals. But we played them twice last year (regular season) and this year. I think it’s just familiarity and the talent levels are close. The coaching staffs are familiar with each other. It leads to good games and hopefully Wednesday will be another one."
The Tigers took the first meeting with the Gators back on Jan. 21, a game that ended thanks to some clutch free throw shooting down the stretch from senior guard Skylar Mays.
Both LSU and Florida are different teams coming into this final showdown on Wednesday. The Gators have won three of their last four including a very close six point loss at No. 8 Kentucky on Saturday. Wade says Florida has changed up a ton of rotations since the Tigers last played them, most importantly playing smaller.
"They are playing (Scottie) Lewis at the three and (Keyontae) Johnson at the four and Johnson’s just been a nightmare matchup for us since he’s been there," Wade said. "They are playing a little more like they did last year. It’s a very tough matchup for us, especially down there. You all know every matchup with them has been very close and tough games."
Wade is right on the money when talking about Johnson. The 6-foot-5 sophomore dropped 16 points and nine rebounds on the Tigers in their first meeting at the PMAC and also had games of 15 and 16 points against LSU last season.
"He’s big, he’s physical. He can drive the ball. He’s been shooting it better. He’s done a really good job on the offensive glass against us," Wade said of Johnson. "He's a load. He can beat you just about any way. You can’t take away just one thing against him.”
While Florida has looked different in recent weeks, LSU isn't exactly the same team either. Before the Tigers 86-80 win over South Carolina, LSU struggle immensely on the defensive side of the ball.
Wade decided to make a lineup change against the Gamecocks, electing to start Aundre Hyatt in place of Emmitt Williams. While Wade wouldn't commit to making the switch a more permanent move, he did say he liked what it did for the bench's production being able to bring Williams off the bench.
“I did. I thought we had good energy off the bench," Wade said. "I thought we had good bench production. I did like it.“
The move also allowed Darius Days to play a small ball five, which completely unlocked his offense. Because Days was guarded by the Gamecocks big man, it created extra space for the sophomore to get his shot off, and he torched South Carolina for 16 points in the first half.
"The starting lineup changed for us and you had a five man guarding him and it allowed him to get cleaner looks early in the game," Wade said. "Same thing that happened in the beginning of the Auburn game. He’s an excellent shooter when he gets open looks he’s going to make a majority of them."
With each game down the stretch becoming of greater and greater importance, a win in Gainesville would be a huge momentum boost for a team that's plateaued in recent weeks. Winnable home games against Texas A&M and Georgia as well as a road outing against Arkansas squeezed between the two are all that remain after the Florida game.
If LSU can finish the season on the right note, it means a double bye in the SEC tournament and a near certainty the Tigers get into the NCAA tournament.