Summer school: Will Wade hopes long study of Arkansas coach Eric Musselman will benefit LSU

Don’t try telling LSU basketball coach Will Wade that a loss is a loss and they all count the same.

Some need to be put under the microscope and studied backward and forward, much like Wade did during a long summer in which offseason activities were severely curtailed by the pandemic.

One such game was LSU’s 99-90 loss to Arkansas in Fayetteville, Arkansas, on March 4, in what became the Tigers’ penultimate game of the season after the Southeastern Conference and NCAA tournaments were canceled.

Wade remembered that contest vividly Tuesday against Arkansas, one of three league schools LSU plays twice a year, coming in for a 6 p.m. Wednesday matchup in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

LSU (8-2, 3-1 SEC) won their first meeting in the PMAC last season 79-77, but Arkansas (10-2, 2-2 SEC), under then first-year coach Eric Musselman, rolled in the rematch.

That was one of two league losses that haunted Wade (he declined to reveal the other) long after the season was canceled, which led to him spending days analyzing everything.

At the time, he didn’t know he might be without star freshman guard Cam Thomas, who injured his right ankle in a win over Ole Miss on Saturday night, but figuring out the loss in Fayetteville was one of his summertime projects.

Wade said Thomas will be a game-time decision after he got some shots up Monday and Tuesday, but Arkansas was as big a concern after he said the Razorbacks got the best of his team twice last season even though they split.

“It wasn’t very close last year at their place … they beat the brakes off us,” Wade said. “I’ll be honest, I spent a lot of time in the offseason studying Arkansas. I went back to (Musselman’s teams) at Nevada.

“There were some different things I felt like we were treading water a little bit against them. So we spent a week to 10 days in the offseason really trying to study them, study what they do, study some of his tendencies.”

Wade pointed a finger at himself, noting he didn’t do a good enough job preparing his team for what Musselman, a former LSU assistant under Johnny Jones, threw at the Tigers in their two games.

“We can get mad at the players all we want, but I thought they were a little bit better than us,” Wade said. “We obviously won the home game, but we got the brakes beat off us at Bud Walton Arena.

“It’s been a good matchup,” he said. “He’s a great coach; he’s got older, experienced, good players, and their staff does a very, very good job in game prep.”

Musselman had to retool his roster after losing three star guards: Mason Jones and Isaiah Joe left early for the NBA draft and Jimmy Whitt used up his eligibility.

Jones poured in 36 points in the Razorbacks’ win in Fayetteville and scored a total of 60 points in the two games against the Tigers; Whitt scored 26 points in Fayetteville and 22 in Baton Rouge.

Musselman’s top newcomers are freshman Moses Moody, a 6-foot-6 guard who averages a team-high 16.7 points while shooting 40.0% from 3-point range, and junior transfer JD Notae, a guard who gets 15.4 points per game.

Freshman guard Davonte Davis, who averages 5.3 points, had a breakout game in a 30-point blowout of Georgia on Saturday with 20 points, seven rebounds, six assists and two steals.

Considering that and the fact Arkansas leads the SEC with 88.2 points a game, Wade knows his transition defense will have to improve over its past couple of games.

Georgia scored 28 fastbreak points last Wednesday and Ole Miss had another 12 on Saturday night.

“We’re going to have to be a lot better in transition ‘D’ than we’ve been,” he said Tuesday. “Arkansas is just going to blow the ball up the court against us if we don’t.

“We’ve got to be better when we shoot it, have one and two (defenders) back and be able to build a wall, protect the paint. So we have got to keep them out of transition and give ourselves a chance to at least guard them in the halfcourt.”

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