College Basketball: LSU at Tennessee – Tennessee Favored
The 22nd-ranked Volunteers look to continue their strong play when they meet disappointing LSU Thursday night in the opening round of the conference tournament at the Georgia Dome.
Tennessee (22-9, 10-6) has won seven of its last eight games following a stretch of just two wins in eight contests. The Volunteers’ surge began with a 70-67 win over the Tigers (16-14, 5-11) on Feb. 6 and has included victories over four ranked teams, including an 86-76 win over then-No. 5 Florida on Feb. 27.
Tennessee followed that up with a 71-65 victory over Georgia on Saturday and earned its first ranking since Jan. 15 Monday. Despite the success, the Vols are the third seed in the SEC’s East Division and will face the West’s sixth seed in LSU.
"We have the second-best record in the league. We don’t get a first-round bye," Vols coach Bruce Pearl said Monday. "Hunger alone is not going to beat LSU, but I promise you, LSU is not going to want to win that game more than we will."
The Volunteers have looked a lot more hungry since the return of junior guard Chris Lofton in that win over LSU a month ago. Tennessee went just 1-3 from Jan. 24-Feb. 3 while its leading scorer was sidelined with a sprained right ankle, but has gotten back on track with him in the lineup.
Lofton leads the conference with 20.6 points and 3.3 3-pointers made per game, which helped him earn player of the year honors on The Associated Press All-SEC team released Tuesday. He is 18 points away from 1,500 for his career.
"We were competitive without Chris … but we couldn’t win without him," Pearl said. "I think that speaks to why he’s player of the year."
Lofton scored 14 points Saturday while JaJuan Smith, the team’s second-leading scorer with 15.3 points, had 19. Both players hit three 3-pointers to help the Vols, who have made a school record 279 3s this season, drain 42.3 percent of their shots from beyond the arc in the victory.
Tennessee will need that strong shooting along with its recent momentum to overcome its dismal history in the SEC tournament. The Vols have yet to win more than one game in the tournament since the divisional split in 1992, and have been one-and-done eight times during that span.
They were the top seed in the East last season, but lost 79-71 to South Carolina in their first game. The Tigers were the SEC regular season champions in 2005-06, but fell 81-65 to Florida in the semifinals of the conference tournament.
LSU began this season 13-4, but has since dropped 10 of its last 13. The Tigers are coming off one of those rare wins, though, after beating the Gamecocks 61-52 on Saturday behind 21 points from Tasmin Mitchell.
LSU leading scorer and rebounder Glen Davis returned to the lineup after missing three games with a right quadriceps strain. The junior forward, who was also named to The AP’s All-SEC team, had 11 points and seven rebounds – down from his season marks of 17.8 points and SEC-best 10.4 boards per game.
Davis had a season-low five points along with 13 rebounds in the Feb. 6 loss to Tennessee.
"I don’t think he is in great shape right now," Tigers coach John Brady said. "I assume he will do everything possible to play against Tennessee because even though he played last time against Tennessee, he didn’t do a whole lot.
"He understands that and hopefully he has a chance to get some redemption. He should have some incentive to get in the best shape possible."
Tennessee is 55-41 against LSU, including 6-2 in the SEC tournament. The winner of this game will meet Mississippi in the quarterfinals on Friday night.
by: Marc Young – theSpread.com – Email Us
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