LSU and Auburn have had little to look forward to down the final stretch of recent seasons. Now they’re the two hottest teams in the SEC.
The 23rd-ranked Tigers look to win their 11th straight conference game and slow down suddenly surging Auburn on Saturday night.
LSU (22-4, 10-1) finished with a conference record below .500 each of the past two seasons and Auburn (17-9, 6-5) the last five.
However, LSU has won 10 straight in SEC play and is the league’s overall leader. Auburn has won four in a row in conference play for the first time since winning its first four of the 2002-03 season.
LSU is the only SEC team with a longer winning streak than Auburn. LSU hasn’t lost a conference game since dropping its opener 65-59 to Alabama on Jan. 11.
“At this point in the season, it is all just repetition,” LSU coach Trent Johnson said. “They know what they need to do and just have to execute.”
Ranked this week for the first time in more than two years, LSU had to rally from an 18-point first-half deficit to beat Arkansas 72-68 on Wednesday night.
LSU made do without starting point guard Bo Spencer (ankle) for the second straight game. Spencer, averaging 11.6 points, is uncertain for this contest.
Terry Martin has been starting for Spencer, and the senior scored 11 points in consecutive contests before being held to three on 1-of-4 shooting against the Razorbacks.
Marcus Thornton had 28 points to lead LSU in that contest. He’s second in the SEC in scoring, averaging 20.3 per game.
The senior guard was outstanding in two games versus Auburn last season, averaging 32.5 points and 6.5 rebounds while making 45.2 percent (14-for-31) of his attempts from 3-point range.
Auburn guard DeWayne Reed averaged 17.0 points and made 53.3 percent (8-for-15) of his 3-point attempts in last season’s series, which saw each team win on the road. He leads Auburn with 13.1 points, 4.0 assists and 2.0 steals a game.
Reed was held to eight points on 3-of-9 shooting against Georgia on Wednesday night, but Auburn had a balanced game on offense in a 71-59 win. Seven players had at least eight points, with Tay Waller scoring 20 and Korvotney Barber adding 11 with 18 rebounds.
Waller, a junior college transfer, has scored 52 points while making 12 3-pointers in the last two games.
Auburn has also gotten improved play from reserves Frankie Sullivan and Lucas Hargrove, who have combined to average 18.0 points in their last three games.
They have helped Auburn raise its hopes after poor performances in past seasons. Auburn will be trying to win five straight conference games for the first time since an eight-game win streak in 1999.
Auburn’s run has made it a stronger candidate for the NIT, and it may even have a chance to earn an NCAA tournament bid for the first since 2003 if it can finish the regular season strong and play well in the SEC tournament.
“We talk about the postseason all the time,” Hargrove said. “It’s a big goal for our team. What we’re trying to do is get there. We know the last couple of seasons we haven’t been there. Everybody knows that the goal is to get to the postseason and try to make something happen. That’s one of our very big goals.”
Auburn will face LSU again in its regular-season finale March 7. LSU leads the series 79-58.