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April 2, 2006

After great season, LSU headed home early

INDIANAPOLIS - Glen Davis doesn't want to go out like this. For LSU, that made the Final Four a little easier to take.

One of the greatest seasons in school history ended with a dismal performance against UCLA, which clamped down on Big Baby and made the rest of the baby Tigers look helpless in a 59-45 loss Saturday night.

Slumped in a chair after LSU's lowest-scoring game in five years, Davis vowed to return for his junior season - which immediately improved the mood in a somber locker room.

''I'll be back,'' he said. ''I want to maximize my ability. I want to enjoy college. This has been a wonderful ride that I can put in my book of memories.''

Davis wants to create more memories for the Tigers, who already helped soothe the wounds left by Hurricane Katrina with their stunning run through the NCAA tournament.

LSU (27-9) knocked off top-seeded Duke and No. 2 seed Texas in the Atlanta Regional before succumbing to the Bruins, a stifling defensive team that kept the Tigers from getting untracked in the national semifinals.

''We're going to learn from this,'' Davis said. ''We're going to remember what happened in the Final Four and never let it happen again.''

If the 310-pound sophomore is true to his word, the Tigers will have a good start on another big season. Three freshmen - Tyrus Thomas, Tasmin Mitchell and Garrett Temple - cracked the starting lineup this year.

Thomas, the Southeastern Conference freshman of the year, might jump to the NBA. He averaged 12.6 points and was dominant at the defensive end with his through-the-roof leaping ability.

''We'll see what happens,'' he said.

Thomas sounded as if he wants to give it another run with the Tigers.

''Somebody had to lose, and I never thought it would be us,'' he said. ''But there's an upside to this. We'll be in Atlanta next year (at the Final Four) - and we'll win it.''

If Thomas stays put, LSU will really be loaded next season. The only senior is point guard Darrel Mitchell, the team's second-leading scorer. Darnell Lazare, the top guy off the bench, has another year left. Two other freshmen, Ben Voogd and Magnum Rolle, got valuable playing time. Tack Minor, who missed most of the season following knee surgery, should return to take over at the point.

''We're just sad for Darrel Mitchell. He's a senior, and we really wanted to do this for him,'' Tasmin Mitchell said. ''But we have a lot to look forward to.''

The Tigers won't be able to sneak up on anyone next year. They won the Southeastern Conference regular-season championship and would certainly be favored to repeat if Davis stays in school. But they must maintain the same passion and desire - the tough part for any team that experiences quicker-than-expected success.

Some of LSU's weaknesses were exposed by the Bruins, probably the best defensive team in the country. Davis, in particular, struggled to cope with the double teams that came his way every time he tried to dribble in the lane. He also conceded that he needs to get in better shape, looking downright exhausted by the time he fouled out with just over two minutes to play.

Davis was 5-of-17 from the field and didn't help himself at the foul line, either, going 4-of-10. As a team, the Tigers made less than half their free throws (13-of-28), which ruined any hope of staying with UCLA.

''They did a great job,'' Davis said. ''When I put the ball on the court, they would double team me. I wasn't getting any calls, my shots were not falling and I took some bad shots.''

The Tigers went 20 years between Final Fours - a gap they don't intend to repeat.

In fact, these guys are already making plans to be in Atlanta a year from now.

''I wish I could hit the rewind button and go back,'' Davis said. ''I can't do that, of course. But this will make me a better person and a better player. It makes me want to get back next year and win it all.''

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