One piece of good news for Texas A&M in its rematch with LSU is that Darrel Mitchell won’t be on the court for the Tigers.
The sixth-ranked Aggies (7-0) hit the road for the first time this season to meet No. 9 LSU (4-1) in a rematch of last season’s thrilling second-round NCAA tournament game.
“It will be a good test,” Texas A&M coach Billy Gillispie said. “There will be a fired-up team waiting for us over there and hopefully we will able to compete with them.”
LSU won 58-57 last season in Texas A&M’s first NCAA tournament appearance since 1987. Mitchell lifted the Tigers by hitting a contested 3-pointer with 3.9 seconds left, sending the Tigers into the regional semifinals.
It was a painful loss for the Aggies, who limited the Tigers to just over 35 percent shooting and rallied from a 53-46 deficit with 3:31 to go. LSU eventually advanced to the Final Four.
“We lost on a last-second shot and it’s just been digging down up inside everybody to see that we were just that close to the Sweet 16,” Aggies forward Joseph Jones said.
The teams look different this season, with LSU losing Mitchell to graduation and Tyrus Thomas to the NBA.
Texas A&M lost two starters, but seems to have gotten stronger by inserting Antanas Kavaliauskas and Josh Carter into the lineup, and the Aggies are eager to gain a measure of revenge.
“You want to go out there, you want to beat them,” Kavaliauskas said. “You want to kind of give a little payback because it always hurts to lose, no matter against who.”
A key to the matchup will be the battle in the paint between Texas A&M top scorer Jones and LSU leading scorer Glen Davis. The 6-foot-9, 250-pound Jones is averaging 15.1 points on nearly 66 percent shooting while Davis, listed at 6-9 and 289 pounds, is averaging 18.8 points and 9.8 rebounds.
Davis led LSU with 21 points in last season’s matchup, while Jones scored just six in 18 foul-plagued minutes.
Kavaliauskas had a career-high 23 points in a 74-62 victory over Pacific on Saturday, and Jones believes the Lithuanian is getting used to his increased playing time.
“He’s very tough,” Jones said. “A.K. is very strong, he’s a strong player, When he ducks in, he ducks in very hard. He’s got a bunch of moves on the post so it’s very hard to guard him.”
The Aggies follow up the matchup with LSU with a game against top-ranked UCLA on Saturday.
LSU bounced back from its first loss by rallying for a 74-67 victory at Tulane on Saturday. Davis dominated inside with 20 points and 13 rebounds.
The Tigers allowed Tulane to shoot better than 49 percent, a season high for an LSU opponent, and coach John Brady believes he knows why.
“I guess we miss that shot blocker (Thomas) we had last year a lot,” Brady said. “We may have to change defenses. We haven’t played a minute of zone. We may have to go to double-teaming the post to give our post guys some help because we’re not as athletic around the goal.”
Dameon Mason, a transfer from Marquette, has replaced Mitchell in the lineup and is averaging 8.6 points per game. The LSU bench has been spotty, with Ben Voogd and Magnum Rolle the only consistent contributors.
“Are we where we need to be? No. We’re still a work in progress,” Brady said.