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LSU head coach Nikki Fargas speaks to her players between the first and second quarters against Rice, Wednesday, November 16, 2016, at LSU's Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge, La.

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK

The LSU women’s basketball team was a little confused when coach Nikki Fargas brought out pencils and paper brackets during last year’s NCAA tournament announcement.

The Lady Tigers knew their name wouldn’t be called on Selection Monday and didn’t have much interest in watching other team’s celebrate more successful seasons.

But Fargas wasn’t about to let them sit back and ignore one of the most important days in college basketball.

As a coach and a player, she rarely, if ever, missed the NCAA tournament, which means she grew up participating in Selection Monday every season, and, for better or worse, nothing was going to change that.

Fargas had the Lady Tigers write down all 64 teams that earned a bid last season, a grueling and painful reminder of their hard work that proved unfruitful.

“I told them, ‘Look, if you’re not going to make this a priority, then why are you here at LSU? There’s so many great players who came here before you and you go into the facility or you go into the PMAC and you see Final Four, Final Four, Final Four. That’s the expectation here. That’s what we’re going to strive for and that’s where the bar is set,’ ” Fargas said.

“We’re not just going to let them not do anything for the NCAA (tournament). That’s not what I’m used to. That’s not in my DNA. There may be one year in my 20 years of coaching an playing that I’ve never been in the NCAA tournament. This is what you do on Selection Monday. You follow the bracket, whether your name is called or not, and that’s why we did it.”

The Lady Tigers never forgot the feeling of that day — not during the offseason, not during the regular season and certainly not when this season’s Selection Monday rolled around.

The only difference was their participation was more than just ceremonious.

No. 8 LSU will travel to Waco, Texas, on Saturday to play No. 9 California in a first round game at Baylor's Ferrell Center.

“It’s totally different than last year,” senior guard Jasmine Rhodes said. “(Last year), coach brought us back in to write down the teams on a tournament sheet, all 64 teams. So for us to actually have a party upstairs and ready for our names to be called, it was an exciting moment.”


Saturday will mark the Lady Tigers’ 25th appearance in the NCAA tournament. They have a 19-5 record in opening games. ... LSU has played Cal twice in the programs’ history with the most recent being a Lady Tigers loss in the 2013 Spokane Regional where the No. 2 Bears defeated No. 6 LSU 73-63 in the Sweet 16. ... While her only meeting with Cal as the coach of the Lady Tigers was a loss, Fargas amassed a 6-1 record against the Golden Bears during her time as head coach at UCLA. ...LSU’s last appearance in the NCAA tournament was a loss to USF in the first round in 2015. 

Follow Mike Gegenheimer on Twitter, @Mike_Gegs.