LSU’s next job: Defending Alabama’s Trevor Releford

Nobody needs to jog Anthony Hickey’s memory about Trevor Releford.

The last time LSU crossed paths with the Alabama guard, he stuffed the scoring column with 36 points at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center a season ago.

Until the final minutes of regualtion, the Tigers couldn’t seem to slow down the Crimson Tide’s leading scorer — even though LSU came away with a 97-94 triple-overtime victory.

“We don’t need to be reminded,” Hickey said. “We know what he can do.”

The key to stopping the Tide (8-9, 2-2 Southeastern Conference), which hosts LSU (12-5, 3-2) at 7 p.m. Saturday, isn’t complex.

Releford averages 18.3 points per game. If he gets rolling, so does Bama.

“We just have to pay a lot of attention to him,” LSU coach Johnny Jones said. “He’s a great basketball player, and proven that time and time again each time we’ve played him.”

On the other hand, Releford, at 6-foot, 190 pounds, is smaller than many of the guards LSU faced against Tennessee, Ole Miss and Tuesday against Missouri.

Against Mizzou, Hickey struggled to keep Jordan Clarkson, a 6-foot-5 scorer, from knifing into the heart of the defense, forcing Jones to bring the longer, rangier Tim Quarterman (6-foot-6) off the bench.

This time, the 5-11, 182-pound Hickey can apply his up-close-and-personal style of on-ball defense, while Quarterman can come off the bench to use his size to stymie Releford.

“He’s going to try to go to man-to-man,” Hickey said. “But that’s everybody every night. It’s nothing different. I’m up for the challenge.”

Sometimes, scouting is just a simple science.

About 26 percent of Alabama’s possessions finish with a play by Releford, according to analyst Ken Pomeroy’s advanced metrics. Sure, he takes a shot about 29 percent of the time — leading the roster — but is also a skilled distributor with 2.6 assists per game.

But over its past three defeats, Alabama struggled to find balance.

For example, in a 66-58 loss at Georgia, Releford, forward Shannon Hale and swingman Rodney Cooper combined for 46 points, while the rest of the Tide shot only 15 percent.

At Missouri, Bama saw what happens when Releford is blotted out entirely.

Bama scored just 17 points and shot 17 percent in the second half, while Releford had just 10 points on a season-worst 4-of-16 from the floor in 68-47 loss.

Sophomore guard Retin Obasohan, who’s averaging 12.2 points, does pose a threat; he has scored more than 15 points in seven games this season. But he’s also hot and cold; Obasohan has scored fewer than eight points in six games.

Meanwhile, Levi Randolph and Rodney Cooper combine for only 16.4 points each night.

So, does it make sense for LSU to concentrate on Releford?

Jones was diplomatic in his answer.

“It’s important that you still be mindful of the guys around him, because they’re still capable,” Jones said. But you certainly have to pay a lot of attention to him.”

Operating in the halfcourt, Releford is active on screens, freeing himself for 3-pointers. Out of 144 shots against a set defense, 58.5 percent of them are 3-pointers, which he’s shooting 41.0 percent.

Last season, LSU figured out with seven minutes left in regulation that forcing the ball out of his hands is the best move. It shifts the burden to others to make a play, too, in late-clock situations.

“We pressured him a lot more,” Hickey said. “When he came off ball screens, we trapped him. We’re going to try and get up into him more this year.”

Pushing the ball in transition, though, Releford assaults the lane 66 percent of the time, meaning matching up on the break and getting back take on greater urgency.

“He makes smart decisions with the ball,” Quarterman said. “You’ve got to stay attached to him, stay up in him and stay focused. He can’t get open drives.”