It’s easy to see why the LSU basketball team has won its past three games after dropping four of its previous five contests.
The Tigers’ big four of Cam Thomas, Javonte Smart, Trendon Watford and Darius Days have gotten most of the attention — and rightfully so — with their scoring, rebounding and playmaking in that stretch.
But the contributions of Josh LeBlanc and Aundre Hyatt, especially in recent double-digit wins over Mississippi State and Tennessee and an impressive blowout of Auburn on Saturday, aren’t going unnoticed.
Both have had a significant impact on LSU’s improved play of late, doing the dirty work most of the time and coming up with the spectacular play every now and then.
Hyatt’s 3-point shooting at Mississippi State and rebounding in the win over then-No. 16 Tennessee are prime examples and LeBlanc had his best scoring game in an LSU uniform at State before notching a double-double in a 104-80 win over Auburn.
Put them together and Will Wade has a solid combination to support the play of Thomas, Smart, Watford and Days.
Just don’t call LeBlanc and Hyatt, who has started the past three games, role players.
“I don’t like to call them roles, because roles kind of makes it sound like it’s a suggestion,” Wade said. “I like to call them responsibilities. … ‘This is your responsibility for our team.’
“I know it’s a slight difference there, but if I say run fast and you say run fast we probably got two different definitions of run fast. ‘Roles’ can leave a lot of stuff out.”
Semantics aside, LeBlanc, a 6-foot-7 forward, and Hyatt, a 6-5 guard, have done what’s expected of them.
The stretch of games in which LSU lost four of five games, including one in an unconventional manner, is in the distant past as far as the Tig…
Take Saturday’s game with Auburn, for example.
LeBlanc came off the bench, as the Georgetown transfer has done for 14 of the first 15 games he played in since becoming eligible on Dec. 14, and recorded his first double-double with his hometown team.
The former Madison Prep star had 12 points and 10 rebounds — both career-highs — in just 22 minutes of playing time.
Even though Wade has often praised LeBlanc for his defensive abilities since joining the program last January, showing it with two blocked shots Saturday, he made all six of his field-goal attempts and added an assist.
“He gives us defense, he gives us rebounding,” Wade said when asked what LeBlanc brings to the court. “He gave us some rim protection (Saturday) with the blocks.
“He’s a big guy. He can rebound, he can guard the ball. He just does a lot of things really, really well that help you win and he finishes around the rim.”
His teammates have certainly noticed.
“Josh LeBlanc always gives us a big spark whenever he’s in the game,” Thomas said. “Defensively, rebounding, he’s always there to help us. If we get beat off the ball, he’s always there to help us … he’s always going to be there around the ball.”
Watford also appreciates what LeBlanc brings with his length, whether it’s playing a big role up top in LSU’s press or down low helping on the glass — like he did against Auburn.
“He brought what he brings every day — we see it every day at practice, we see it every day at workouts,” Watford said. “That’s just Josh LeBlanc. He’s always been that type of player, and he’s going to continue to do that.”
Even though he’s not expected to score 18 points a game, LeBlanc’s 6.7 points and 5.7 rebounds during the three-game winning streak are big considering he was averaging just 2.7 points and 3.7 rebounds going into Saturday’s game.
In a perfect world, the LSU basketball team would have played a midweek game heading into a big Saturday matchup with Auburn.
“He plays with great energy. He has a great motor,” Wade said. “He does a lot of dirty-work things, a lot of really, really important things that contribute to us winning.
“I’m very, very pleased with his progress, and he can continue to really help us and take some vital responsibilities on our team.”
Hyatt, a redshirt sophomore, has also thrived in earning a bigger role recently.
A starter for the first three games of the season, he saw his playing time diminish greatly when he was replaced by freshman Mwani Wilkinson.
After not getting off the bench in three consecutive outings and not scratching the stats sheet in an 18-point loss to Alabama on Feb. 3, Hyatt returned to the starting lineup when Wilkinson was sidelined by the flu against Mississippi State.
He scored seven of LSU’s first 11 points in the second half to spark a 14-point road win and hasn’t slowed down since.
“Aundre just took advantage of the opportunity,” Wade said. “I felt like Mwani gave us the best chance to win for a while and teams kind of started to figure us out with him.”
Hyatt had seven points and three rebounds at State, then had eight points and matched his career-high in rebounds with eight in the win over Tennessee.
He notched six points and five rebounds Saturday to up his averages to 7.0 points and 5.3 rebounds in the three-game stretch. Prior to that, Hyatt averaged 3.6 points and 2.3 rebounds in his first 12 games.
“I was proud of Hyatt hanging in there and sticking it out, and it came back around to him,” Wade said. “Aundre’s a good player, we’ve always said that.
“There’s a reason he earned the starting role at the beginning of the year. It’s not like we’re just handing it out — he earned it and had done what he needed to do to get it. Now, he’s certainly been playing well for us.”
LSU basketball coach Will Wade had nothing new to report Friday on reserve forward Shareef O’Neal, who saw a specialist Wednesday about his in…