LSU went with what works against No. 5 Kentucky in crunch time. In one of the biggest moments of the game on Feb. 12, sophomore point guard Tremont Waters found freshman forward Naz Reid for a three to take a 65-62 lead on the Wildcats’ home floor with 3:44 to go.
The go-ahead three began a stretch where Reid and Waters combined for LSU’s last nine points before senior center Kavell Bigby-Williams’ tip-in at the buzzer to win 73-71, making it LSU’s second win all-time (2-35) on the road against a top-five team – the previous win coming against Kentucky in Jan. 1980.
It’s become set in stone almost — Waters to Reid with the game on the line.
Up one with 15 seconds left in overtime against Mississippi State, Waters made the easiest play he can make – a simple pass to Reid.
It came four days after Waters went for broke against Arkansas by throwing a difficult alley-hoop to junior forward Marlon Taylor in an exact situation as the one they found themselves in against Mississippi State on Feb. 6.
This time, the simple play worked. Reid had a clean look from three. His shot bounced high off the front of the rim, and after floating in the air on the cloud of tension in the arena, the ball dropped straight through the net.
“I just had the shooter’s touch at the moment, and also I’m pretty sure Wayde [Sims] played a big part in that,” Reid said on Feb. 8 of his game-clinching three against Mississippi State.
There was nothing fancy drawn up by LSU coach Will Wade. The play was just a simple on-ball screen by Reid on Waters’ man — a simple play that wreaked havoc on Mississippi State’s defense and other opposing Southeastern Conference teams since the beginning of January. The big guarding Reid on the perimeter had his eyes glued to Waters, who sucked the defender in by driving to the top of the key, leaving Reid wide open. The freshman from New Jersey finished with a career-high 29 points along with nine rebounds. Meanwhile, Waters chipped in 26 points and five assists.
“I don’t know if any big man in the country can guard Naz at the three-point line,” Waters said on Feb. 8. “As long as we have playmakers on the court — me, Ja’vonte [Smart], [Skylar Mays], pretty much everyone on our team now, including Naz in crunch time — I don’t think any team is going to be able to figure out what we’re trying to do. It’s just a matter of instinct and making plays with the ball.
“To have Naz in the pick-and-roll late in the game — it just causes confusion for the other team.”
The two-man game between Waters and Reid has devastated opposing defenses in conference play. They combine to average 34.7 points per game on 47 percent shooting from the field and 41 percent from three. Either Waters or Reid have led the team in scoring in nine of LSU’s 11 conference games so far, and both have two double-doubles.
When Reid has stepped out to the perimeter, it’s been Waters who has set him up. Waters has assisted on eight of Reid’s 12 made threes in conference play.
Reid says he hasn’t noticed many changes in the way teams are trying to guard on-ball screens involving him, but one thing that does stand out is when teams try to trap Waters, leaving Reid without a defender near him.
“It’s wide open,” Reid said. “If the next defender comes over, I know the next guy will be wide open. I’m ready to shoot it and I’m ready to kick it, whichever one is there.”
Being able to see the court from the perimeter on a pick-and-pop is something Reid likes, but don’t think he’ll abandon hard rolls to the basket or anything in between.
“Coach [Wade] puts it in place, puts it in practice,” Reid said. “We work on pick-and-pop, pick-and-roll, short roll, stuff like that. We work on it in practice and try to display it in the game as much as we can, and it’s been working so far.”
The two-man game between Waters and Reid is something LSU has turned to late in crunch time of close games, and it is an area where the team is starting to excel. After starting out 1-2 in games decided by two scores or less, the Tigers are 6-1 since and have picked up three overtime wins on the road in the SEC.
“Being comfortable in uncomfortable situations helps us a lot – coach [Bill] Armstong told me that one day,” Waters said. “I didn’t understand it, but now I’m starting to understand it a lot more. Obviously, we’re going to have those late game situations so we have to be comfortable in those situations and be able to execute.
“I feel like that is where we’re most dangerous because no team can pinpoint who is going to shoot the last shoot,” he continued. “As long as we have faith in each other were going to be really good.”