The LSU men’s basketball team (14-4, 6-0) will take a slight break from SEC competition and travel to Austin as the Tigers will play the Texas Longhorns (12-6, 2-4) in the seventh installment of the SEC-Big 12 Challenge.
LSU comes into Saturday’s game as the only remaining unbeaten team in SEC play, having narrowly edged past Florida 84-82 Tuesday evening. Texas, on the other hand, is currently sitting in seventh place in the Big 12 and got walloped by the West Virginia Mountaineers 97-59 Monday night.
The intrigue surrounding Tigers vs. Longhorns centers around the head coaching battle. Will Wade will go up against Shaka Smart. Wade and Smart were both assistants at Clemson under then-head coach Oliver Purnell. Smart eventually became the head coach at VCU and Wade followed him to serve as an assistant. Wade would then replace Smart as head coach of the Rams after Smart accepted the head coaching position at Texas.
“I certainly wouldn’t be a head coach as fast as I was without Shaka,” Wade said. “I’ve worked with him longer than anybody else I’ve worked for as an assistant, so a lot of the things we do in our program are built around what he does.”
The Tigers have fallen into an unfortunate habit of playing close games lately. LSU’s won its last five games by a combined 13 points. The Tigers haven’t won comfortably since beating Tennessee by 14 three weeks ago. And while Wade sees the Tigers’ ability to pull out the close game as a positive, he would like to have his team not have to play so many nailbiters.
“It gives us some confidence in those types of situations, and we feel good about what we do,” Wade said. “But we have to avoid those situations. I know I sound like a broken record talking about this all the time, but we have to be better at getting ourselves out of those tricky situations and being able to expand leads.”
This is only the third time LSU has participated in the Big 12-SEC Challenge and its first since the 2016-17 season. LSU has a 1-2 record in this event; the Tigers’ lone win came against No. 16 West Virginia in the 2016-17 season. Its two losses were a 77-75 heartbreaker to No. 1 Oklahoma in the PMAC the 2014-15 year and a 77-64 rout against Texas Tech in Lubbock the following season.
The Big 12 has won four of the seven challenges. The SEC’s only win was in the 2017-18 season and the two tied in 2016-17. Some other notable pairings in this year’s edition of the Big 12-SEC Challenge include Tennessee traveling to Lawrence to take on the No. 3 Kansas Jayhawks, No. 15 Kentucky heading to Lubbock and playing the No. 18 Texas Tech Red Raiders, and the nightcap features Florida hosting the No. 1 Baylor Bears.
The game tips off at 1 P.M. and will be carried on ESPN. Paul Sunderland and Fran Fraschilla will have the call.