Nikki Caldwall wants Lady Tigers to focus, keep confident _lowres

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- LSU guard Danielle Ballard

This season, the LSU women’s basketball team has had to overcome discouraging defeats, turnovers, suspensions and injuries.

Who would have thought the Lady Tigers might have to battle complacency as well?

That may or may not have been the case Monday, but against a lowly Missouri team, LSU frittered away a 20-point second-half lead before coming back strong for a 74-65 win

Now they go on the road to face Auburn, the only winless team in the Southeastern Conference.

LSU coach Nikki Caldwell wants her team to be mindful of how dangerous SEC play can be, no matter the competition.

“The SEC is no joke,” Caldwell said, “especially when you’re on the road. It only takes one game for a team to get started and get that confidence.”

LSU goes into Thursday’s game at Auburn (6 p.m., FSNO) virtually brimming with confidence compared to what they experienced to start the season.

After going 6-6 in nonconference play, The Lady Tigers are 6-3 in the SEC (12-9 overall) and tied four fourth in the SEC standings.

LSU has a real chance to go to 8-3 with a win at Auburn (9-13, 0-9 SEC) and at home Sunday against Alabama (second-to-last at 12-2 and 1-8) before traveling next Thursday to face No. 1 South Carolina.

But it requires staying in the moment.

“We have to be able to handle the success we’re having right now, stay true to the game plan,” Caldwell said. “The plan against Auburn, a very good defensive team, is we’ve got to make some baskets, and our defense sets the tone for us.

“You’re going to see a great battle Thursday night.”

Junior guard Danielle Ballard has been setting a tone for the Lady Tigers since returning from a 14-game suspension against Vanderbilt.

She’s scored in double figures in five straight games, including 16 against Mizzou. That’s taken a lot of scoring pressure off fellow guards Raigyne Moncrief and DaShawn Harden and added a level of self-confidence to the team overall.

“They’re believing in each other,” Caldwell said. “It’s (guard) Rina Hill taking charges, (forward) Sheila Boykin battling on the boards. We’re believing in what we’re capable of doing. Everyone is not complacent, but we’re comfortable in the responsibilities we have.

“We’ve got a good rhythm right now.”

Auburn has played out of tune most of this season. Its problems got even worse with the dismissal Sunday of its top scorer in SEC play, forward Hasina Muhammad.

The 6-foot-1 senior, a former All-SEC selection, was kicked off the team after an on-court fight Jan. 22 with Alabama’s Breanna Hayden and Meoshonti Knight.

Muhammad served a two-game suspension from Auburn and the NCAA before coach Terri Williams-Flournoy made her departure permanent.

Muhammad averaged 9.1 points and 4.2 rebounds per game overall and ranked in the top 10 in Auburn history in blocked shots and steals.

Without Muhammad, Auburn was routed Sunday 78-45 at Texas A&M, the Tigers’ 10th straight loss. Auburn now will rely even more on 6-3 junior forward Tra’Cee Tanner and 5-10 sophomore guard Brandy Montgomery (10.7, 4.0).

Bria Johnson, a 5-8 freshman guard from Episcopal, has played in just six games and scored two points this season.