Variety pack for LSU fans

If you’re like most LSU fans, you usually spend game days filling a plastic plate with jambalaya, sharing stories with friends and counting the hours until kickoff.

This particular Saturday provides one other option: a basketball game.

The LSU men will tip off their season against Nicholls State at noon in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, marking only the second basketball-football doubleheader in school history. Admission to the basketball game is free of charge.

Latching onto the top-ranked football team’s “Purple Game” theme, LSU basketball will wear its purple uniforms generally reserved for road games.

“It’s a good way to get people to come see us play live, kind of build some excitement and start rebuilding the fan base. Lay the foundation for them to come back for more games,” said LSU junior Eddie Ludwig, entering his third year on the basketball team.

Fans can be excused if many have paid little attention to the bouncing balls across the street from LSU’s famous football venue.

Football is rumbling toward a championship-caliber season. Basketball is looking to rebound from back-to-back 20-loss seasons.

But with coach Trent Johnson returning a veteran nucleus to go with four key newcomers, the Tigers hope to keep the spirit that has permeated the LSU campus this fall alive through March.

The first test comes against a Nicholls team that pulled off a 62-53 upset last year to end LSU’s 22-year home winning streak against Louisiana opponents.

“The guys are a little testy,” Johnson said. “We have been very physical amongst ourselves. I don’t think Saturday afternoon could get here fast enough.”

Johnson enters his fourth season at LSU with a higher comfort level than the previous three.

His first year, he was introducing a new system to a senior-laden roster that would go on to win the Southeastern Conference title. His next two, he was working with teams that lacked lots of SEC experience and trying to get them ready for uphill battles ahead.

Storm Warren, Malcolm White and Chris Bass return for their senior years. Ralston Turner and Andre Stringer are only sophomores, but were the team’s top two scorers last season.

Throw in Iowa State transfer Justin Hamilton, who will start at center after sitting out last year, and freshmen Anthony Hickey, Johnny O’Bryant and John Isaac.

After watching the Tigers practice for five weeks, Johnson said he has a team that will be balanced on offense and diverse on defense.

A physical team. A hungry team.

“We still have a bad taste in our mouths from last year,” Ludwig said. “It’s something that pushes you in the offseason to perform and get better.”

As they look to get the program pointed back in the right direction, the Tigers begin with a prime reminder of the lows they experienced a year ago.

Nicholls returns to the PMAC after snapping LSU’s 82-game home winning streak against in-state opponents. The Colonels had never beaten the Tigers in 16 previous tries.

“We’ve learned from a big mistake we made last year, and that big mistake being that we underestimated them,” Warren said. “We can’t come out with the mindset that we’re going to beat people just because we’re LSU. We’ve got to come out every day and get it done.”

Nicholls will play the same deliberate, shorten-the-game style as in previous seasons, but the Colonels face LSU this time without their top two players from last year.

Multi-year star Anatoly Bose, a senior when he lit up LSU for 28 points, is now playing overseas.

Fred Hunter, who scored 18 points against the Tigers last year, suffered a torn ACL late in his junior season. He is sitting out 2011-12 as his injured knee heals and will rejoin the Colonels as a redshirt senior next year.

Nonetheless, the Tigers know they will get Nicholls’ best effort.

“We’re tired of beating each other up,” Stringer said. “We’re ready to get our first game under our belt.”

They will do so in a rare scenario that allows LSU fans to feast on two sports in one day.

The only other time the school hosted a basketball-football doubleheader, it wasn’t planned as such. Hurricane Gustav forced LSU football’s game against Troy in 2008 to be rescheduled, leading the Tigers to host the Trojans hours after the basketball team played its season opener.

“We’re looking forward to seeing a nice turnout for this game,” Warren said. “We’re going to come out and give them a good sample of what to look for the rest of the season.”

NICHOLLS STATE AT LSU

WHEN: Noon Saturday.

WHERE: Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

RADIO: WYPY-FM, 100.7.

TV: None.

2010-11 RECORDS: LSU 11-21, Nicholls 14-14.

LAST MEETING/SERIES: Nicholls 62, LSU 53, Nov. 16; LSU leads 16-1.

UP NEXT: LSU vs. Coastal Carolina, Tuesday at Kimbel Arena in Conway, S.C.

Probable lineups

LSU

Starters

C Justin Hamilton 7-0 Jr.

F Storm Warren 6-7 Sr.

G Ralston Turner 6-6 So.

G Anthony Hickey 5-11 Fr.

G Andre Stringer 5-9 So.

Reserves

F Malcolm White 6-9 Sr.

F Johnny O’Bryant 6-9 Fr.

F Eddie Ludwig 6-9 Jr.

NICHOLLS STATE

Starters

F Sam McBeath 6-7 Fr.

F Lachlan Prest 6-7 Fr.

G Dantrell Thomas 6-2 So.

G Pedro Maciel 6-1 Jr.

G Ben Martin 6-1 Sr.

Reserves

F Trevon Lewis 6-5 Fr.

G Shane Rillieux 6-2 Fr.

G Linden Smith-Hyde 6-2 Jr.