Great shooting cures a lot of woes in college basketball. No one knows that better than LSU Coach John Brady, whose Tigers have had stretches that were either feast or famine.
LSU (21-10) is the No. 8 seed in the South Region and plays No. 9 Purdue (18-10) Friday afternoon in Birmingham. The Boilermakers should hope for the LSU team that struggles from the outside and not the one that hit a whopping 33 combined three-pointers in back-to-back games against Auburn and Tennessee, nor the one that delivered just three in a loss to then-No. 1 Arizona.
It was no coincidence that when the Tigers lost five Southeastern Conference games in a row early in the season they shot 28 percent on three-point attempts.
But in making a late-season run that clinched LSU an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, the Tigers hit 55 percent on three-pointers in six consecutive victories.
Then things went cold again from outside as LSU upset Florida in the quarterfinals of last week's SEC tournament. However, in the first half of that game, the Tigers were 16 for 21 inside the arc, a sizzling 76 percent.
It was a far cry from the previous time LSU played Florida, when the Gators came to Baton Rouge and took advantage of the Tigers' 33-percent effort from the field, including 5-of-27 three-point tries.
"After the first loss, John asked me, 'What do you do?' For whatever reason, they couldn't make a shot," Florida Coach Billy Donovan recalled. "They've got good shooters.
"They are not much different defensively now. What I'm impressed with is their unselfishness and the way they are passing the ball. Most importantly they've become an outstanding shooting team."
When they weren't, Brady tried seemingly everything, "Two or three weeks ago most people counted us out," LSU senior swingman Collis Temple III said.
Nothing changed until Brady inserted seldom-used sophomore Xavier Whipple into the lineup as the starting point guard. While Whipple only plays about half the game and rarely scores, the move appeared to take pressure off senior Torris Bright, who moved to the off guard and saw his offensive game go to a new level. Bright scored in double figures in nine of LSU's last 10 games, averaging 13.5 points during that stretch. He has hit 49 percent of his three-point attempts the past 13 games.
The move also seemed to wake up another senior, Temple, who not only is working on his doctorate, but is also averaging almost 14 points in the past 10 games, five points better than he had the previous 10 games. What's more, he has hit 48 percent of his three-point tries the past 10 games.
LSU also gets tremendous inside play from Jaime Lloreda, last year's national junior college player of the year. Lloreda has had his struggles, but he blocked 60 shots this season, including eight in LSU's last four games, during which he averaged 12 points and 11.5 rebounds.
"Anytime you can close a year like we did, winning seven in a row, and eight out of the last 10, I think that speaks well of your team and where it came from," said Brady, who took LSU to the round of 16 in 2000.
"For our team to hold together and win five straight SEC games, two of them on the road, three by significant margins, beat our third top-10 team in the country in the SEC tournament when we beat Florida, speaks a lot about the character of our team and how it held together in some difficult times. Hopefully all of those things that we have been through this year will help us in that game against Purdue on Friday in Birmingham."
Dupree (16 ppg)Jaime Lloreda, last year's national junior college player of the year, provides inside punch for LSU.