The LSU Tigers return to the court Saturday for second round action in the NCAA Tournament, facing the difficult task of facing the tournament’s #1 seed in the South Region, the North Carolina Tar Heels. Tipoff is set for 5:45 p.m. EDT (4:45 p.m. CDT).
A crowd of over 20,000 is expected for the Saturday games, with most wearing Carolina blue. The Tar Heels are 26-1 in NCAA Tournament games played in the state of North Carolina, including 4-0 in Greensboro.
LSU is 27-7 on the year in this Southeastern Conference championship year and will be the last league team left in the NCAA Tournament after winning a 75-71 decision over Butler on Thursday. Marcus Thornton led the Tigers with 30 points, including a 9-0 run that sparked the Tigers late in the first half. Thornton became the fifth player in LSU history to score at least 30 points in an NCAA Tournament game.
LSU has eight wins in its history over teams ranked in the top three in the AP poll, including the win over No. 1 ranked Duke in the 2006 regional semifinals in Atlanta. Of course, redshirt junior Tasmin Mitchell and senior Garrett Temple were a part of that famed game and know the experience of making a run to the NCAA Final Four.
Of course, Temple has gotten a national reputation as a defensive stopper from his performance against J. J. Reddick of Duke and that reputation has grown through his career.
“Well, first of all, a lot of people on this team, everybody has their role and understands what their role is,” Temple said at Friday’s press conference. “My role is to play great defense, guard whoever Coach puts me on. Most likely the toughest scorer on the other team or their best three-point shooter on the other team. I've had to have that role for the last three or four years now. I take it to heart. I try to do the best I can defending whoever coach puts me on. Find out what their tendencies are, you know, and defense is a really big part of my game. That's probably the best thing I bring to the table in terms of
“In terms of the Final Four, I mean, that was three years ago, so I don't know if it has that big of a deal with this team, because it's a whole new team. The nucleus is, besides me and Tasmin, everybody else
is new that's getting a lot of minutes. But me and Tasmin can pass down some things from that year, in terms of patience, making every possession count. Understanding how important it is to not take anything for granted when you're on this run, and to cherish the moment. Other than that, the basketball game's going to be played how it's played.”
For Temple and seniors like Thornton and Chris Johnson, they are cherishing the moment and hope the run can continue.
North Carolina is 29-4 after an easy 101-58 first-round win over 16-seed Radford as Wayne Ellington had 25 points and Tyler Hansbrough had 22, including 12-of-12 from the free throw line.
The Tar Heels played for the third consecutive contest without the services of ACC Player of the Year Ty Lawson. The junior point guard injured his right big toe on March 6 and played in the regular season finale win against Duke two days later but has missed the last three contests due to lingering pain in the toe. He is listed as a game time decision for the game on Saturday.
Coach Trent Johnson hasn’t changed his philosophy in any game this season and as he told the assembled media, this won’t be any different for the 10-year veteran head coach who is making LSU his third team that he has taken to the NCAA Tournament.
“They're all the same to me (laughing),” said Johnson. “No, honestly, again, there's a challenge in front of us. Nobody respects what Carolina basketball is about and what Coach Williams has done with this basketball team more than me. But I've always been one to consume myself and concern myself with our strengths and our weaknesses and how we can attack if we can attack our next opponent. So I try to keep myself in a position where I'm on an even keel, and it is competition. For us going into Saturday much like it was coming into Butler's basketball game or before that it was Mississippi State. It is a game that's going to be decided on the floor. We need to compete at a high level and do the best we can. If we're good enough we'll be successful. If we're not, we won't.”
Thornton is now averaging 21 points for the Tigers after his big game on Thursday, while Temple (at 7.1 points) and Bo Spencer (11.5) complete the guard trio with Mitchell at forward (16.2) and Chris Johnson at center (7.7).
LSU will be trying to make the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2006, for the third time in the 2000s and the 14th time overall.
Hanbrough averages 21.4 points a game, while Lawson is at 15.9 points per game and Wayne Ellington 15.5 a game. Rounding out the five in double figures is Danny Green at 13.3 points per game and Deon Thompson at 11.1.
Following Thursday’s game, Johnson was asked about a potential opponent for Saturday’s game and he cracked, “But if it's North Carolina, I think we have an advantage because our basketball coach is light years brighter than Roy Williams. So I think," but he couldn't finish the sentence because he was laughing at himself.
Later Williams would counter: “I consider (Johnson) one of the class acts in college basketball. I'm not so sure that anybody did a better job in college basketball than Trent did this year. If I knew he'd buy me dinner I'd tell him the truth, and that's the fact that I voted for him for national coach of the year. But I don't think I can swing that anyway. But I do think he did a great, great job. The team is an extension of him. They're going to be fundamentally sound, aggressive and enthusiastic and playing with passion."
The winner of this game advances to the Sweet 16 in Memphis to play the winner of the Saturday late game in Portland, Ore., between Gonzaga and Western Kentucky.