LSU set to take on Boise

LSU head coach Trent Johnson coaches his players against Houston at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center Tuesday November 30, 2010. Show caption
LSU head coach Trent Johnson coaches his players against Houston at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center Tuesday November 30, 2010.

When he takes a seat on the bench Saturday night at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, LSU coach Trent Johnson will see familiar colors running through the tunnel from the visitors locker room and onto the court his Tigers call home.

Just don’t expect him to be misty-eyed.

Johnson said he won’t take a second to reminisce about the points he scored, the rebounds he grabbed or the baskets he defended as a Boise State player from 1974-78. He said he will be far too busy trying to figure out a way to help LSU win.

“I’m 55 years old,” Johnson said. “The bottom line for me is getting this group ready, and they have an understanding of how skilled and how talented and how good a basketball team this is we’re playing. In terms of this being my alma mater, that’s nonsense.”

Johnson, a 1986 graduate of Boise, will become the first LSU coach to face his alma mater in men’s basketball. John Brady faced Belhaven in 2007, but that was an exhibition game.

Next year, the Tigers will travel to Boise in the back end of a home-and-home agreement.

But Johnson said the matchups have nothing to do with the LSU coach and everything to do with junior center Justin Hamilton. Johnson said he wanted to give his 7-footer from Alpine, Utah, a trip out West so his family and friends could see him play his senior year.

“We originally wanted to get a home-and-home with Utah or Utah State, but that wasn’t doable,” Johnson said. “Boise was the next school in that proximity.”

Johnson had great success against Boise during his days as Nevada’s coach, going 7-1 against his alma mater from 2000-04 when the schools were Western Athletic Conference rivals.

He leads the Tigers (5-3) into their first-ever meeting with the Broncos (8-1) hoping LSU can build on the momentum it found during back-to-back road victories over Houston and Rutgers.

In both recent wins, the Tigers held their opponent under 60 points. In both wins, they had to make plays in the final seconds to secure victory.

“It’s going to be a great experience coming home to play in front of our fans just to show them what we’ve been working on,” Hamilton said.

LSU entered its most recent home game Nov. 23 in a similar situation.

The Tigers had just beaten Western Kentucky and Georgia Tech to close the Charleston Classic. They had held both opponents below 60 points.

But after building a 12-point cushion against South Alabama before the home crowd, LSU allowed South Alabama to rally for a 79-75 victory in overtime.

It was the low point of the young season.

“The last time we were here, it didn’t end like we wanted,” sophomore guard Ralston Turner said. “Now, it’s another opportunity to go out and do what we’re supposed to do and get a win.”

The focus for the Tigers will be forcing Boise to beat them off the dribble. The Broncos shoot a sizzling 49.8 percent from the field, including 42.5 percent beyond the 3-point arc.

Second-year coach Leon Rice, a longtime Gonzaga assistant, led Boise to 22 wins last season and a trip to the College Basketball Invitational semifinals. The Broncos nearly made the NCAA tournament, but lost in the WAC tournament championship game.

This year, Boise has stretched its home winning streak to 13 straight by starting 8-0 at home.

In their one road game, however, nationally ranked Long Beach State allowed the Broncos to shoot only 31.5 percent from the field and 29.6 percent from 3-point range.

“We just want to get better and continue building on the last two wins,” Turner said. “We can’t allow ourselves to take a step back.”

Anthony Drmic, a freshman from Australia, leads Boise with 15.6 points per game and is shooting 42.2 percent beyond the arc. He is the only Bronco averaging in double figures, but eight other players average six points or more.

One of the best compliments Johnson could pay Boise, tongue in cheek, is that the Broncos have no Trent Johnsons on their roster.

“A lot better players on that team right now than the guy that played there back in the early ’70s,” he said. “A lot better players.”

Johnson ranks 11th in school history with 1,155 points, fourth in rebounds with 702, and fifth in games started with 107.

As a sophomore in 1976, he helped Boise reach its first NCAA tournament. As a senior in 1978, he earned second-team All-Big Sky recognition.

Johnson in 2009 received a Distinguished Alumni Award from Boise State recognizing excellence in former students of the university.

But as he prepared the Tigers for Saturday’s game, Johnson never mentioned his ties to LSU’s next opponent.
He’s not one to dwell on the past.

“I just knew from reading his bio, doing some research on him,” Hamilton said.

Boise State at LSU
WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday.
WHERE: Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
RADIO: WTGE-FM 100.7; TV: CST.
RECORDS: LSU 5-3, Boise State 8-1.
LAST MEETING/SERIES: First meeting.
UP NEXT: LSU vs. Cal-Irvine, 7 p.m. Thursday at the PMAC.

PROBABLE LINEUPS
LSU
Starters
C Justin Hamilton 7-0 Jr.
F Johnny O’Bryant 6-9 Fr.
G Ralston Turner 6-6 So.
G Anthony Hickey 5-11 Fr.
G Andre Stringer 5-9 So.
Key reserves
F Malcolm White 6-9 Sr.
F Storm Warren 6-7 Sr.
G John Isaac 6-3 Fr.

BOISE STATE
Starters
F Ryan Watkins 6-9 So.
F Thomas Bropleh 6-5 So.
G Drew Wiley 6-7 Jr.
G Anthony Drmic 6-6 Fr.
G Westly Perryman 6-2 Sr.
Key reserves
C Kenny Buckner 6-7 Jr.
G Igor Hadziomerovic 6-4 Fr.
G Jeff Elorriaga 6-2 So.