WACO, Texas — It came down to the matchup LSU never wanted, and it ended with the result the Lady Tigers feared.
With 10 seconds left and the Lady Tigers trailing by one to California in the first round of the NCAA tournament Saturday night, senior forward Alexis Hyder drove to the basket down the left baseline — directly into the path of one of the nation’s best young post players, Cal's Kristine Anigwe.
It was big on big and, with LSU being one of the smallest teams in the tournament, the advantage was decidedly not in the Lady Tigers' favor.
As Hyder jumped for what could’ve been the game-winning layup, the 6-foot-4 Anigwe swung her arm into the shot, sending it to the ground, where the Bears won the ensuing scrum for the ball.
That, followed by a pair of Anigwe free throws on the other end, sent LSU home with a 55-52 loss.
“I saw the lane and I wanted to make contact, which I thought I did. It just didn’t go our way,” Hyder said. “I wanted to get her in the air. I thought it was a good drive. Seeing it afterward, there’s things I thought I could’ve done differently, but I was just trying to take the best shot for the team.”
“Which it was,” teammate Raigyne Moncrief added.
LSU battled Anigwe and the much larger Cal lineup for better or worse all night as the Bears tried to go to the low post early and often.
Cal opened the game with 10 of its first 13 points coming from inside the paint. LSU scored none in the same stretch.
But Hyder, along with LSU freshman forward Ayana Mitchell, battled their way into the post, forcing Cal to abandon its game plan for a large chunk of the middle of the game.
Anigwe, who entered the game as the 12th-leading scorer in the country at 20.5 points per game, was limited to two points in the first half. She finished with 15 points and seven rebounds.
Cal did outscore LSU 24-20 in the paint, but the Lady Tigers equaled the Bears with 35 rebounds.
Hyder led LSU with 10 points and 12 rebounds to go with a pair of blocks.
“I understand that I’m undersized, and I take advantage of that,” Hyder said. “I understand many 6-5 people do not want to guard around the perimeter — they don’t want to guard pick-and-pops, they don’t want to guard off the dribble — so taking advantage of that opened up the court, and that’s why Ayana Mitchell was great down the stretch and Chloe (Jackson) and Raigyne were getting to the lane.”
LSU was finally able to get Cal away from the post, doing it the same way it had compensated for its lack of size all season — by disrupting the offense with aggressive defense and capitalizing on turnovers.
The Lady Tigers forced Cal into 20 turnovers, which turned into 17 points. LSU also scored 19 second-chance points, but it wasn’t enough.
“Late game, down the stretch, we’ve got to make plays,” coach Nikki Fargas said. “We can’t think we’re going to get bailed out. Every play we missed, every and-one opportunity, we’ve got to score the ball. I think this group is very well aware that they’ve got to make their own breaks.”
LSU started slow as Moncrief and Jackson were uncharacteristically cold from the field. Two of LSU’s best shooters, the guards went ice cold to the tune of 0-of-14 shooting to start the game, and they didn’t hit their first field goal until seven minutes remained in the third quarter, when Moncrief made a short jumper.
But when the Lady Tigers needed them the most, they stepped up to score a combined 20 points down the stretch.
LSU only led once, and it was on a jumper from the top of the key by Jackson with 7:31 to play.