FAYETTEVILLE LSU's basketball team brings a four-game losing streak into Saturday night's game against Arkansas in Walton Arena, but senior guard Manny Watkins doesn't believe the Razorbacks are facing a wounded Tiger.
"I look at it like they're a hungry Tiger," Watkins said. "Any team that's coming off that many losses in a row, they're hungry to do whatever it takes to get a win.
"And they've seen teams come in here and beat us and I guarantee you they have the utmost confidence they can come in here and win."
Arkansas (14-4, 3-3 SEC) has lost at home to Florida 81-72 and to Mississippi State 84-78, but the Razorbacks are going for a third consecutive victory after beating Missouri 92-73 and winning at Texas A&M 62-60.
"We have the utmost confidence that we're going to win the game, too," Watkins said. "It’s going to be a dogfight."
LSU couldn't hold onto a 11-point lead in the first half at Auburn and lost 78-74 Wednesday night.
Auburn went ahead by 15 points in the second half. LSU cut its deficit to two points before Auburn held on to win.
"We made some good plays down the stretch, both offensively and defensively," LSU Coach Johnny Jones said. "Unfortunately, it wasn't enough to get over the hump.
"We look forward to getting back out on the road and hopefully continuing to play better. Hopefully be able to finish a game out in the fashion that we need to come away with a victory.”
The Tigers (9-8, 1-5) are led by sophomore guards Antonio Blakeney (averaging 16.8 points and 5.1 points per game) and Brandon Sampson (10.6 points) and 6-10 juniors Duop Reath (13.6 points, 6.2 rebounds) and Aaron Epps (6.7 points, 5.1 rebounds).
Reath, a transfer from Lee (Texas) Junior College, has helped fill the void inside with the loss of junior forward Craig Victor, who was dismissed from the team in late December for disciplinary reasons.
"They haven’t been able to find a way to pull it out at the end, but it’s a team that's very, very talented," Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson said. "They're athletic, just as good as anybody in our conference. They have some size.
"The Reath kid is probably a guy that can be a double-double waiting to happen.
"The last couple of ballgames I saw, it’s a team that's starting to put some things together. We certainly have to play good basketball for 40 minutes."
Blakeney didn't start at Auburn because of an ankle injury, but he played 31 minutes off the bench and had 13 points and 7 rebounds. He's expected to be back in the starting lineup against Arkansas.
Jones said he wasn't sure even during pregame warmups at Auburn if Blakeney would play.
"But he said he felt good and that he could compete and play," Jones said. "His ankle had been in certain situations like that early in the year and he was able to play through it and I thought mentally he would be able to get through it.”
Blakeney is averaging 17.7 points in SEC play. He scored 24 points against Missouri and Mississippi State.
"We know Blakeney's capable of getting some big numbers," Anderson said. "No question he's certainly an NBA prospect and a big key to their team."
LSU's slow start has raised questions about Jones' job security, especially after the Tigers finished 19-14 last season and missed the NCAA Tournament despite being led by forward Ben Simmons, the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft by the Philadelphia 76ers.
Jones, who played at LSU and was a longtime assistant for Dale Brown, has an 89-59 record in five seasons as the Tigers' coach.
"I don’t really think about that," Jones said of the pressure to win. "I think about our next game with preparation for our players.
"Years that we’ve had success right off the bat like last year beating Vanderbilt and Kentucky, I didn't come back after starting 2-0 thinking we had hung the moon and that we had arrived or anything of that nature.
"So each game has its own deal and we have to make sure that we continue to take that approach throughout the season. I don't think it does myself, the team, the staff, or anybody any good to worry about anything farther than that.
"That's my main focus and concentration. Those are the things I can control. So that's what we’ll continue to do.”
Watkins said the Razorbacks can't overlook the struggling Tigers.
"They're going to come in knowing their backs are to the wall and ours are, too," Watkins said. "We're 3-3 and nowhere near where we want to be.
"We've got to bring it and play all out."