BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - No. 3 seed LSU (26-6) will face No. 14 seed Yale Thursday at 11:40 a.m. in Jacksonville, FL, on TruTV.
LSU wrapped up its last practice Wednesday before its debut in the “Big Dance.” The Tigers hit the court for one final tune-up. They are a 7.5-point favorite against their ivy league counterparts. The experts expect a score of something like 82-75 for LSU to win with interim head coach Tony Benford.
Things don’t look that much different near VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, FL, than they did 13 years ago when LSU started its march to the 2006 Final Four. There’s still plenty of red brick, including the sports bar next to the arena.
Many of the current LSU Tigers were only 6, 7, or maybe 8 years old when Darrel Mitchell hit his famous three-pointer to beat Texas A&M. It was about a 25-foot shot.
“It was insane, man; it was crazy,” said Tasmin Mitchell, a forward on the 2006 LSU basketball team and current director of student-athlete development. “Whoever that guy was blocking me out, he wasn’t going to get the rebound because I had that offensive rebound.”
“Jacques, by the way, we love Darrel Mitchell; we love him,” added former LSU basketball head coach John Brady. “The only thing I did was we got it to the best player and he decided what he wanted to do with it.”
So, will LSU make new great history here or will the Tigers fail to reach their potential without suspended head coach Will Wade?
“Dreams are made, dreams are made," said guard Marlon Taylor. "Champions are made.”
“We can’t control the outside noise of what’s going on," said Benford. "All we can control is what’s going on in our locker room and our huddle. The players have taken ownership of the locker room.”
“I’ve been through a lot all my life and the last two weeks have been rough, but I’m always in the gym every day no matter what,” added guard Ja’Vonte Smart.
“The good part is no one has to do it alone on this team,” explained guard Marshall Graves. "We all feed off each other’s energy and we all keep the tone light and I think it’s been fairly easy with this team and all the fun and all the things going on and keep all the distractions outside.”
Yale features senior guard Trey Phills, the son of the late Bobby Phills, a Southern Jaguar legend. The older Phills died in a car crash when his son was just three years old.
“A lot of three people reached out to me, LSU fans and Southern fans and said, ‘I guess I’ve got to cheer for the kid today and stuff like that,’” said Trey Phills. “So, I like that and it means a lot and I think it’s going to be an awesome opportunity.”
Yale (22-7, 10-4) won the first-ever Ivy League Tournament Championship with a 97-85 win over Harvard to advance to the NCAA Tournament.
The Bulldogs are 3-0 this season at neutral sites, including wins against California (76-59), Miami (FL) 77-73, and Harvard (97-85) in the tournament championship.
LSU and Yale both played the Memphis Tigers this season.
LSU beat Memphis 86-76 and Yale lost a heart breaker in two overtimes, 109-102.
Yale is averaging 81 points per game, led by Miye Oni, Alex Copeland, Blake Reynolds and Jordan Bruner.
Oni, a junior guard and NBA prospect, is averaging 17.6 points per game, 6.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists per contest.
Copeland, a senior guard, is averaging 13.8 points, 3.4 assists and 1.2 steals per game.
Reynolds, a senior forward, is averaging 11.4 points per game and 4.5 rebounds.
Bruner, a junior forward, is the team’s leader with 8.3 rebounds a game and is averaging 10.2 points per contest.
Yale senior guard Trey Phills is the son of former Southern star and NBA guard Bobby Phills, who tragically died in a car accident in 2000.
Phills is averaging 7.1 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game this season.
The Tigers, the SEC regular season champions, are looking to bounce back from a 76-73 defeat to Florida in the SEC Tournament.
LSU led 35-25 at halftime, but struggled down the stretch against the Gators. A three point shot by Florida’s Andrew Nembhard with 1.2 seconds left sealed the victory for the Gators.
Tremont Waters continues to lead the Tigers in scoring with 15.1 points per game, followed Naz Reid (13.7), Skylar Mays (13.4), and Javonte Smart (11.5).
Waters is dishing out 5.9 assists per game and has 91 steals this season, Reid is grabbing 7.2 rebounds per game and Kavell Bigby-Williams leads the team with 61 blocks.
With a win against the Bulldogs, LSU would advance to play the winner of the Maryland/Belmont game.