DULUTH, Ga. — The eight pairs of pink slippers that LSU’s Cinderellas have been wearing during their monthlong winning streak are still dancing in the Southeastern Conference tournament.
No. 22 LSU built an 18-point lead with 11 minutes to go but squandered almost all of it Thursday night as Auburn mounted a furious rally. But instead of hearing the clock strike midnight on their victory tour, the Lady Tigers heard the clank of Chadarryl Clay’s half-court 3-point attempt when it caromed off the rim as time expired, allowing LSU to escape with a 65-62 victory in the Gwinnett Center.
“I was glad that buzzer finally sounded,” LSU coach Nikki Caldwell said. “If there were a few more minutes, the way that Auburn really fought back, the outcome of that game definitely could have been different.”
Instead, the outcome was more of the same for LSU. The win pushed the Lady Tigers’ winning streak to seven, improved their record to 20-10 and landed LSU in Friday night’s quarterfinals against No. 3 seed Georgia (24-5). Tipoff is set for 7:30 p.m. CST on FSN.
LSU beat then-No. 9 Georgia 62-54 back on Feb. 10 to begin its winning streak. That game was also LSU’s pink game for breast cancer awareness; the Lady Tigers wore pink head to toe.
The Lady Tigers have since ditched the pink uniforms but kept the shoes as good-luck charms. The shoes might clash, the shoelaces may now be a bit frayed, but they are still undefeated.
LSU, the No. 6 seed, looked like it would cruise into a rematch with Georgia for much of the night against No. 11 seed Auburn (16-14). The Lady Tigers turned 10 Auburn turnovers into 16 points that fueled a 39-24 halftime lead. That lead ballooned to 18 at 57-39 with 11:05 left on a fast-break layup by Derreyal Youngblood.
But LSU would score just eight points the rest of the way. The Lady Tigers had just one basket in the final 5:30 — a 3-pointer by Adrienne Webb off an inbound pass — and a free throw by Jeanne Kenney with 5.8 seconds left.
Kenney’s second free throw would have made it a two-possession game and sealed the win, but it rolled off the rim to Auburn’s Tra’cee Tanner. Clay worked the ball upcourt looking for senior Blanche Alverson, Auburn’s reigning homecoming queen and resident 3-point specialist. But unable to find her and the clock spinning down, Clay stepped just inside the time line and hoisted the shot herself.
“When it left my hands, I was praying and hoping to God it went in,” said Clay, who had 14 points. “It fell short, a little to the right. I wish I had time to take that moment back and reshoot that shot. Maybe it would go in.”
The Lady Tigers had to fight for a win the first time they played Auburn, taking a 59-55 decision Jan. 31 for their first SEC road victory. As Caldwell feared, it was a fight the second time, too, as her team struggled to make the transition from hunter to hunted, to deal with the success of a huge lead.
“That plagues a lot of teams,” she said. “We were that team that is Auburn. We were that team that would get down nine, 10, 11 points and have to claw its way back and not have enough in the tank to finish. We understand that mentality.
“Not getting ourselves in a hole — we’re on the flip side of that now, which is new for us.”
Webb led LSU with 18 points. Plaisance, a first-team All-SEC selection, had 15 points and a game-high 14 rebounds. Alverson led Auburn with 17 points.
LSU, which puts just eight players on the floor, got eight unexpected points from sophomore reserve guard Anne Pedersen, her career high.
“My teammates were getting me the ball, and I was hitting them,” said Pedersen, who made 4 of 7 mostly wide-open looks. A native of Denmark, she said she would immediately call her parents back home to tell them how she did.
The win was LSU’s first in six tries against Auburn in the SEC tournament, though it was their first such meeting since 1994. LSU evened its SEC tournament record at 32-32 but will have to play better than it did Thursday to move above .500.
Caldwell figures her team will do just that.
“Everything they’ve faced,” she said, “they take from one game and use it in the next.”