New season, new coach, same old offensively challenged LSU Lady Tigers.

After opening the season shooting 61.5 percent from the field to win at Wichita State, LSU has regressed into the team that struggled to score so often in years past.

The Lady Tigers chilled their shooting percentage down to a season-low 30.2 percent, failing to make a basket over the final 3:52 en route to a 44-43 loss to Northwestern on a rainy Tuesday night at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

No. 20-ranked LSU fell to 3-2. Northwestern, which beat LSU 71-62 to open the 2010-11 season in Evanston, Ill., improved to 4-0.

“We talk about being a 40-minute team,” LSU coach Nikki Caldwell said. “Obviously tonight we didn’t play 40 minutes. Probably 15 minutes of good basketball.

“I’m probably being generous.”

Caldwell, who spent an extended time in the locker room with her coaching staff before returning courtside for her postgame radio show, didn’t stop there.

“We had some no shows tonight,” she said. “Some starters. Some off the bench. This group isn’t strong enough not to have everybody contribute.”

Both teams struggled to score early, with LSU rallying with a 9-1 run in the final five minutes before intermission to send the game to halftime tied 19-19.

The Lady Tigers led by as many as nine points twice, the last at 35-26 with 11:01 remaining on a layup by Bianca Lutley, but watched it melt away.

“I saw a disconnect tonight when we were challenged,” Caldwell said. “I didn’t see a team bond and jell like we needed to.”

Northwestern coach Joe McKeown saw a game that didn’t have much of a chance to be a masterpiece for either team.

“Both of our games with LSU have been early games, so they are what they are,” McKeown said. “You just want to get better. You don’t want to get too high or too low in November.

“It was an ugly game.”

McKeown would get no argument from LSU forward LaSondra Barrett, the Lady Tigers’ only double-figure scorer with 11 points.

“With us it’s all mental,” she said. “We have to look at ourselves in the mirror and find out what kind of team we want to be and realize what’s at stake.

“We were working toward that, but (this) was a letdown.”

LSU was clinging to a 43-42 lead when Northwestern guard Morgan Jones drove in and drew a foul from LSU forward Taylor Turnbow with 11.8 seconds remaining. She sank both free throws for what would be the game-winning points.

“LSU is very jumpy and they go for head fakes,” said Jones, who had 11 points. “I was confident. It’s not what everybody thinks; that pressure is going to make you break. You just take a deep breath, say ‘1-2-3 follow through,’ and it went in.”

The Lady Tigers hurried the ball across half court and called a timeout with 9.6 seconds left to plan their offensive strategy.

Jeanne Kenney inbounded to Lutley at half court. Lutley started to drive the left wing, but kicked the ball back out on the left side to Theresa Plaisance, a 6-foot-5 forward.

Plaisance attempted her first 3-pointer of the season in the first half, then put up another to try to win it. But her shot completely missed the rim and bounced out of bounds with 0.7 seconds left.

Northwestern inbounded the ball to run out the clock.

“B (Lutley) had a great look and they collapsed on her,” Caldwell said. “They stuck tight to Jeanne, as we knew. You can’t get a more open look than what Theresa did.

“We had some really good looks, wide-open looks, but we didn’t shoot the ball well.”

LSU committed 22 turnovers, its fourth game with 20 or more. Northwestern’s Brittany Orban led all scorers with 13 points.

After a brief Thanksgiving break, the Lady Tigers hit the road this weekend for a 4 p.m. game Sunday at No. 19 Ohio State.

LSU’s next homestand is Dec. 11 and 13, when the Lady Tigers host Alabama State and then UCLA, the team Caldwell coached the previous three seasons.