Wednesday, January 31, 2007

By the 21st game of the season of the umpteenth year of a college basketball player's years playing the sport, making any midstream mechanical adjustments can be dicey.
So, no, despite LSU’s shooting problems reaching emergency status, there won’t be any major noticeable alterations.
And from the neck up, the Tigers won’t get too panicky, either.
LSU (13-7, 2-4 Southeastern Conference) returns home to battle 19th-ranked Alabama (15-5, 2-4) at 8 tonight at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in a meeting of two struggling teams looking to recapture the form that caused both to be ranked in the top-five nationally before the season began.
The Tigers are on a three-game losing streak for the first time since the end of the end of the 2003-04 season. The Crimson Tide is listing just as badly with three losses in four games and three SEC road defeats by a total of 72 points.
As bad as things seem for both teams, they are still clinging to the same glimmer of hope. Following Ole Miss’ 85-78 victory Tuesday against Mississippi State, every West Division team has at least four losses and all six also have at least two victories.
A hot streak now by anyone could completely change the complexion of the division race, meaning maintaining confidence could be a big key.
“I know my confidence is still there and I think all our other shooters still feel good about what they’re doing, too,” said LSU point guard Garrett Temple, who is shooting only 17.9 percent (5-of-28) from 3-point range in SEC games and 31.8 percent (14-of-44) overall in conference play.
“I know I need to pick my shots better and start making some — instead of shooting the 3, maybe drive the ball a little more. But your confidence can never waver if you want to be a good shooter. If you’re in a slump, you have to keep working hard to get out of it.”
Temple isn’t alone in his shooting malaise. Tasmin Mitchell’s percentage from outside the arc has also tumbled as he has missed 18 of 23 3-point tries in SEC play. Neither sophomore has connected on more than two 3-pointers in the last 13 games.
That’s left Terry Martin as the only reliable long-range shooter and as good as he’s been at times, he has also battled consistency.
The 6-foot-6 swingman has dropped in three or more 3-pointers in four SEC games and is hitting 44.4 percent from outside the arc. But he also has two games — including the earlier meeting with Alabama, a 71-61 LSU loss — when he couldn’t find the mark at all.
As a team, the Tigers’ 3-point numbers have faded from 37.7 percent (89-of-236) in non-conference games to an SEC-worst 29.4 percent (32-of-109) in six league contests.
While the shooters’ confidence might be intact, LSU has made fewer and attempted fewer 3-point shots than any team in the SEC.
Despite those negative trends, LSU coach John Brady isn’t ready to throw up a stop sign for any of his perimeter players.
“If we’re taking good shots within the offense, I’m not going to complain,” Brady said. “We’re trying to stay positive and encourage those guys as much as we can. I try to compliment every shot that goes in the basket right now. That’s important from a mental standpoint right now.”
Equally as important might be the fact LSU’s struggling offense collides with an Alabama club that has had major problems stopping opponents.
The Tide has surrendered 76 points or more in four SEC games after giving up more than that just once before the league season opened.
In the last five games, Alabama foes are shooting a robust 48.2 percent from the floor (144-of-299) and 43.2 percent (38-of-88) from 3-point range.
If LSU can parlay whatever confidence remains into a better performance tonight, the Tigers are aware they could direct their season back in the right direction.
“We know everybody has four losses in the West and that stays in the back of our minds,” Temple said. “But we also know we have to start winning games to still have a chance.”

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