Down the stretch we come, so of course LSU is playing one of the teams that has given it fits lately.
It's Auburn on the plains, and the opposing Tigers have won a staggering seven of the last nine against LSU, with the P&G Tigers also being 0-3 this year against teams with the same mascot. Those tidbits mean little here, though Auburn's 81-77 win in the PMAC 3 weeks ago was an embarrassing nadir for this team. They've admirably picked up the pieces since then, notching home wins over Alabama and Florida, scaring Kentucky to death and splitting road games at Tennessee and Texas A&M. That's nice and all, but LSU still hasn't won consecutive games after Feb. 1 since exactly two years ago. Now, it's time to put it together and create some breathing room as far as their resume and NCAA Tournament hopes go. Beating Auburn on the road is crucial, with it avenging an earlier loss, adding another road win to the book and setting up a two-game home stretch against Ole Miss and Tennessee, two teams LSU has already defeated. This is a bit of lynchpin game.
When Auburn roared to 81 points in the PMAC, it was assumed that they'd start rocking and rolling a bit off that momentum. It hasn't really happened, with the lone win a one-point squeaker against Georgia. Granted the 4 losses have been to Ole Miss, Arkansas, Kentucky and Alabama. That's the SEC's top 3 teams and a major rival. Make no mistake, the Tigers are still improving.
The one thing that isn't in question is Auburn's potent offense. Starting with that LSU victory, the Plainsmen have averaged 75 points per game and haven't been held below 68 in a contest. LSU is just 1-6 in the SEC when allowing 67 points or more in regulation and the lone win was an overtime heartstopper against Vanderbilt. Stopping Auburn is the No. 1 priority in this game. That certainly won't be easy, as guards KT Harrell and Antoine Mason absolutely torched LSU to the tune of 52 combined points last time. They did that mostly behind the 3-point line, as LSU was late rotating on screens and was truly a bit lazy closing out on Auburn shooters. Harrell and Mason went 8-of-13 behind the arc and each got to the foul line at least 10 times. That slash-and-kick game is how Pearl's offenses excel, but LSU has the athleticism to match it. Max effort and focus on the defensive end just need to be there this time.
Down low, Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin will face off with Cinmeon Bowers, a bruising forward who gobbles up rebounds. In fact, those three are the leading rebounders in the SEC, and Bowers notched a double-double in the Auburn win on Feb. 5. Martin, meanwhile, is coming off a career performance against Florida, highlighted by that insane between-the-legs dunk and 28 points/16 rebounds. Mickey, on the other hand, is struggling after consecutive poor outings on the offensive end. As long as Martin and Mickey play anywhere close to the dominance they've displayed in spurts, LSU will be just fine in the paint.
Overall, this is an absolute must-win game for LSU. Getting swept by Texas A&M is one thing, but Auburn isn't going to make the postseason of any kind. You can't drop two games to a team like that. Expect a fiercely competitive game, yes, but a loss is a disaster, full stop. LSU's been staving that off for the last three weeks. Let's see if they can tip the scales back in their favor even a little bit.