LSU gears up for hapless Vanderbilt to close regular season

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LSU gears up for hapless Vanderbilt to close regular season

No. 10 LSU has won an amazing number of close games this season by playing intelligent ball down the stretch and grabbing just about every rebound in sight.

On Saturday night at the Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge, La., the resurgent Tigers (25-5, 15-2 Southeastern Conference) will be chasing something even more elusive than a loose ball -- the school's first regular-season SEC title since 2009.

However, the Tigers will play the game with head coach Will Wade once again the focus of federal wiretaps.

All the Tigers need is a victory over beleaguered Vanderbilt (9-21, 0-17), which has lost a school-record 18 straight games and has not won a game in 2019.

"I'm very, very pleased with where we are right now ... but now we have to finish it," Wade told a group of LSU boosters at a luncheon Thursday. "It's like making a layup. You have to get there and finish strong."

Just after making those remarks, Wade faced tough questions about a Yahoo! Sports report that he was overheard on FBI wiretaps telling a recruiting middleman that Wade had made "a strong-ass offer" to a recruit.

Later in the conversation, the wiretaps picked up Wade referring to "this Smart thing," which could be a reference to highly recruited Baton Rouge guard Javonte Smart, who signed with the Tigers last summer.

Asked about the Yahoo report at a press conference following the luncheon, Wade said: "I haven't read it, so I don't have any comment on that. I'll have to read it and look at it and from there, we'll move forward as we need to.

"We've handled everything very, very well so far. We talk about the bigger the game or the more noise that's out there, you've got to narrow your focus, and so we've been very good at keeping a narrow focus thus far, and I would think this would be no different."

After beating Florida 79-78 in overtime Wednesday night to conclude its first-ever 9-0 SEC road schedule, LSU is tied with Tennessee (27-3, 15-2) for first place in league play.

Tennessee finishes the regular season at Auburn on Saturday at noon ET. If both LSU and Tennessee win, they will be named co-champions, but LSU will earn the No. 1 seed in the SEC Tournament by virtue of its 82-80 overtime victory over the Volunteers in February.

LSU would be sole champions with a win over Vanderbilt and a Tennessee loss. If both teams were to lose, Kentucky (25-5, 14-3) could make it a three-way championship by beating Florida on Saturday, but LSU has the tiebreaker for the No. 1 seed by also beating Kentucky in Rupp Arena last month.

LSU has shown its mettle in close games. The Florida game was the seventh to go into overtime this year -- a school record -- and the Tigers are 5-2 in those games, including 5-1 in the SEC.

Vanderbilt comes to Baton Rouge weighed down by a historic losing streak. After being routed at home by Arkansas 84-48 on Wednesday night, the Commodores posted their first losing home record (8-10) in 67 seasons. Their last victory came on Dec. 31 against UNC-Asheville.

After Vanderbilt shot just 29.6 percent against Arkansas -- the Commodores' worst shooting percentage of the season -- third-year coach Bryce Drew was understandably contrite. During a 17:35 stretch, Vanderbilt went without a field goal. The team heard boos from restless fans.

"I apologize for our ball-handling, our shooting and our passing," Drew said. "The fundamentals of basketball. Those are three things we have to get better at."

A loss Saturday night to LSU would add another chapter to Vanderbilt's current negative history: No SEC team has gone winless in conference play since Georgia Tech went 0-14 in 1953-54.

Since losing highly touted freshman point guard Darius Garland to a knee injury in December, the Commodores have spiraled down.

"I would tell (the fans) that brighter days are ahead," Drew said. This is a day-by-day build. (Am I) losing sleep? What's sleep? It's absolutely miserable to go through."

--Field Level Media