TAMPA, Fla. — The LSU women’s basketball team went into Saturday’s NCAA tournament opener in unfamiliar territory as a No. 11 seed, its lowest ever.
The Tigers left the tournament Saturday night with another first, going out in the opening round with a 73-64 loss to No. 6 seed South Florida. It’s LSU’s first one-and-done in 17 trips since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1994.
“For us, the first and second round the last few years we’ve been in Baton Rouge and our seeding was a lot better,” coach Nikki Caldwell said. “But this time of year, it’s really about players making plays, and they executed their game plan. They made baskets and were able to come away with the victory.”
LSU (17-14) had struggled on the road this season, posting a 4-7 record that included three straight losses in true road games. USF (27-7) — hosting only because No. 3 seed Louisville had a conflict with its home arena, which is hosting games in the men’s tournament — got a strong turnout of 5,560 fans, its most ever for a non-Connecticut home game.
“We’ve been in hostile environments before,” said LSU guard DaShawn Harden, who scored a team-high 17 points in her final game with the Tigers. “I just think they played better than us. They got on the boards a lot, they executed their game plan better than we did. I don’t think it had anything to do with the crowd. I think it had more to do with us letting them disrupt what we wanted to do.”
USF led 27-15 early, getting to the free-throw line much more often — 20 attempts in the first half compared to four for the Tigers. LSU scored off an inbounds pass to beat the buzzer and cut the lead to 38-32 at halftime.
But the Bulls came out of halftime strong: Forward Laura Ferreira hit two 3-pointers in the first 64 seconds as part of an 8-0 run to take a 46-32 lead. LSU got no closer than eight points the rest of the way, even trailing by 17 with 3:40 left.
“Ferreira hit that shot, and then Courtney (Williams) found her (again) and I thought the roof on this place was going to go off. It was great. Fabulous,” said Bulls coach Jose Fernandez, whose team plays Monday against Louisville, which eliminated LSU from last year’s tournament.
USF, which got 17 points, 12 rebounds and six assists from Williams, posted just the second NCAA tournament win in its history and is a win away from its first Sweet 16 trip, something the Tigers had done each of the past two years.
But for an LSU team that opened the season 2-4, playing 14 games while leading scorer Danielle Ballard was suspended, there was pride in ending its season in the NCAA tournament; they were picked seventh in the SEC preseason poll after losing three starters from last year.
“We weren’t expected to make the tournament, but as a competitor, I expect to win,” Harden said. “As a whole, it’s a pretty good accomplishment for us. ... We made the NCAA tournament when we weren’t expected to make it at all.”