So much opportunity remains out there for the LSU women’s basketball team — and so much danger.
LSU can win its last two Southeastern Conference games at Ole Miss on Thursday and at home Sunday against Texas A&M and wind up with the No. 3 seed in next week’s conference tournament, virtually locking up a berth in the NCAA tournament in the bargain.
Even if LSU drops its last two regular-season games, the Lady Tigers (currently 15-11, 9-5 SEC) aren’t likely to slip below a No. 5 seed in the SEC tournament. But under that scenario, LSU would probably need to go to the tourney in North Little Rock, Arkansas, and win a couple of games to secure a spot in the field of 64.
There are other concerns, too. LSU is coming off a 63-41 loss Sunday at Arkansas, while Ole Miss (16-11, 6-8) is coming off a 67-59 upset Monday of No. 13 Kentucky.
LSU coach Nikki Caldwell wants her team to block it all out: the Lady Tigers’ worst scoring game of the season, Ole Miss’ sudden momentum, the NCAA tournament bubble, even LSU’s 70-41 rout of Ole Miss in Baton Rouge on Jan. 29.
“We have to make sure our team stays in the moment,” Caldwell said. “We can’t go back and relive the game we played last month, because Ole Miss is a different team, and so are we. We have to focus on the things we do well on the offensive and defensive ends but understand there will be a lot of emotions.”
The game is set for 6 p.m. online on SEC Network+ and can be heard on WBRP-FM 107.3 in Baton Rouge and in the Geaux Zone on LSUSports.net.
A victory would put LSU at 10 wins, a significant benchmark. Since the SEC went to a 16-game women’s basketball schedule in 2010, all 22 teams that won 10 or more SEC games received NCAA invitations.
Ole Miss, whose embarrassing loss to LSU was part of a seven-game losing streak, has since won two straight (the Rebels beat Auburn 51-46 last Thursday) and hopes to parlay a late-season surge into an NCAA berth as well.
As of Wednesday, LSU was No. 67 according to the NCAA RPI, while Ole Miss was No. 94.
The Rebels still have a ways to climb given LSU’s current shaky straits.
Monday, ESPN women’s basketball analyst Charlie Crème projected the Lady Tigers as a No. 11 seed in the Spokane Regional and one of the last four at-large teams to make the field.
“We know what’s at stake,” Caldwell said.
Junior guard Danielle Ballard continues to lead LSU with 13.8 points per game and 7.3 rebounds per contest after scoring 13 points (her 10th straight double-figure game) with eight rebounds at Arkansas. She’s joined in double figures by guards Raigyne Moncrief (11.2 ppg but only three points at Arkansas on 1-of-13 shooting) and DaShawn Harden (10.2 ppg, team-high 14 at Arkansas).
Ole Miss is led by one of the SEC’s top players: 6-foot-1 senior forward Tia Faleru. She averages 14.9 points and 10.6 rebounds per game and will be playing for the last time at Tad Smith Coliseum.
“She’s the heart of their team,” Caldwell said of Faleru. “We have to match her intensity.”
Faleru had just five points on 2-of-9 shooting at LSU and seven rebounds. The Lady Tigers held the Rebels to just 23.2 percent shooting and forced a staggering 30 turnovers, both season worsts for Ole Miss.
“We did a nice job against them last time because our defensive effort was so good,” Caldwell said. “We have to take that same attitude we had at home on the road.”
LSU’s home finale Sunday against Texas A&M has been set for a 1 p.m. tip on ESPNU.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.