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March 8, 2012
LSU hungry for second shot at top-ranked Cats
NEW ORLEANS - Trent Johnson opted for a new look on Thursday.
The LSU basketball coach was decked out in a suit for his Tigers' 70-54 win against Arkansas in the first round of the Southeastern Conference Tournament, a change from his more casual recent attire.
"Those damn sweater vests weren't working the past two weeks, so we thought we would just wear a suit," Johnson said.
Now Johnson needs to pull an even more dramatic quick change.
LSU meets Kentucky in Friday's quarterfinal round at the New Orleans Arena. The Wildcats ran though the regular-season SEC schedule without a loss, have won 22 straight games and thumped the Tigers 74-50 earlier this season in Baton Rouge, La.
"I'm not caught up in Cinderella (stories)," Johnson said. "I just know the challenge for us is huge. We have to play well and they have to help us by not playing as well as they have been playing."
Kentucky's been uncooperative with its competition of late.
Eight of the Wildcats' last 11 games have been decided by double digits, and LSU, which lacks scoring punch, appears on paper an unlikely candidate to end Kentucky's recent dominance.
LSU likely can't win a shootout. So if the Tigers are to tame the Wildcats, it's likely they'll have to do it in a slowed-down, physical game.
"Yeah, they probably will (be physical)," UK coach John Calipari said. "But will they play fast, will they play zone? Game starts, you'll figure out (their strategy). One of their advantages will be that they can physically bump us a little bit, but we've seen a lot of that. As long as it's not fouls, it's fine."
In 6-foot-9, 262-pound freshman Johnny O'Bryant, the Tigers have a player who can more than hold his own with the Wildcats inside. The McDonald's All-American had 12 points and nine rebounds in the teams' meeting on Jan. 28.
"I feel like we've got nothing to lose and everything to gain," O'Bryant said. "We'll just give it everything we've got, play those guys hard and whatever the outcome is the outcome is."
In UK's win on Jan. 28, LSU hung tough early in the first half before the Wildcats broke open the game. The Tigers got a combined nine points from guards Anthony Hickey and Ralston Turner on 4-for-12 shooting.
That loss to Kentucky capped a three-game losing streak for the Tigers.
"We got another opportunity (against Kentucky), and we're going to take advantage of it this time," Hickey said. "It's going to be a great game."
LSU, which lost its last three regular-season games, looked rejuvenated against Arkansas on Thursday.
The Tigers outrebounded the Razorbacks 41-28, held Arkansas to 4-for-16 shooting from three-point range and had four players in double-digit scoring, including O'Bryant, who had a game-high 18 points and 11 rebounds.
"I saw Johnny O'Bryant some today and he was a beast," Calipari said. "He was as good as any big guy I watched all day, going after balls and scoring around the basket and playing with a smile on his face. He was really good today. So this is a tough challenge for us."
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