|Scandal weighing heavy in No. 9 LSU's meeting with Florida|
No. 9 LSU had its hands full in both meetings against Florida this season, splitting the games while going to overtime in both.
The third matchup between the two teams will be even more intriguing when the eighth-seeded Gators face the top-seed Tigers on Friday in the SEC tournament quarterfinals.
LSU will go into this matchup without head coach Will Wade, who was suspended by the school on last Friday after reports surfaced that his voice was on a FBI wiretap in an attempt to negotiate with convicted middleman Christian Dawkins while recruiting LSU freshman guard Javonte Smart.
Wade released a statement on Thursday saying he should be allowed by the school to rejoin the team as head coach.
"Last week, when the University decided to place me on administrative leave, I accepted the decision without complaint as I knew that they wanted time to reflect on the flurry of media reports," Wade said in a statement. "With the benefit of a week to consider the circumstances, I believe University officials should allow me to resume my duties."
LSU athletic director Joe Alleva told the Baton Rouge Advocate that Wade remains suspended because he has yet to discuss the matter with him and school officials.
Under interim coach Tony Benford, LSU clinched the outright SEC title with an 80-59 win over Vanderbilt last Saturday. Benford, a former head coach at North Texas, will be coaching his second game for the Tigers on Friday.
Smart, LSU's fourth-leading scorer at 11.5 points per game, did not play for the Tigers against Vanderbilt. The school has yet to decide whether he will suit up for the Gators on Friday.
LSU (26-5) suffered an 82-77 overtime loss to Florida at home on Feb. 20, but bounced back to beat the Gators 79-78 in overtime on March 6 in Gainesville, Fla. The Gators (18-14) had a chance to win the second meeting, but coming out of a timeout with 6.6 remaining, failed to get a shot off before the final buzzer. Senior guard Jalen Hudson scored a season-high 33 points for Florida in the loss.
Florida kept its NCAA Tournament hopes alive with a 66-50 win over Arkansas in the SEC tournament on Thursday. Senior guard KeVaughn Allen broke out of a shooting slump, going 6 of 14 from the floor and 3 of 7 from 3-point range en route to 17 points.
LSU has been led all season by sophomore point guard Tremont Waters, who ranks eighth in the SEC in scoring (15.3 points per game) and third in assists (5.9 per game).
Benford said LSU freshman center Naz Reid, who suffered an elbow injury against Florida and sat out the Vanderbilt game, should be good to go on Friday in the rematch with the Gators.
"Our guys showed a lot of resiliency and toughness on Saturday, obviously without Coach Wade, Javonte and Naz," Benford told the media. "I thought our group did a great job of really having tunnel vision and staying focused on the task at hand and going out and playing really, really well."
Benford said he's confident that LSU will be able to continue to play through the distractions that have surrounded the programs since Wade's suspension began.
"This is the closest group I've ever been around in my 28 years of coaching at this level," Benford said. "They trust one another. They trust our staff. They show a great deal of toughness and ability to make plays when they need to."
--Field Level Media