NASHVILLE, Tenn. — LSU’s visit to Music City for the Southeastern Conference women’s basketball tournament was like a sad — and short — country ballad.
After scraping and clawing all season to earn a double bye as the tournament's No. 4 seed, LSU was one-and-done after a 75-69 loss Friday afternoon to No. 5 Texas A&M at Bridgestone Arena.
The Lady Tigers dropped to 19-9 and return home to await an all-but-certain at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. The 64-team field will be announced March 12.
Texas A&M (24-8) advanced to face top-seeded Mississippi State in Saturday’s semifinals. It will be the Aggies' third game in three days after they dispatched Arkansas 82-52 on Thursday.
This is unchartered territory for Nikki Fargas’ program, the first time in seven SEC tournament appearances her Lady Tigers have failed to win a game. She said some critical defensive breakdowns and turnovers were her team’s undoing in a tightly contested struggle.
“We knew it was going to be a battle,” Fargas said. “I thought we didn't screen as much as we needed to defensively, and they took advantage of that. I thought some of our turnovers led to some transition baskets that we weren't accounting for as well. But this team still played hard and they fought to the end.”
LSU and Texas A&M split during the regular season, the Aggies winning 69-59 in College Station, the Lady Tigers winning an 80-78 thriller in Baton Rouge.
The difference between Friday’s loss and that February win? Two words: Chennedy Carter.
Texas A&M’s phenom, the SEC freshman of the year and the nation’s top-scoring freshman with 21.5 points per game, was held to a season-low eight points in Baton Rouge.
Friday, LSU couldn’t contain her when it counted most. Carter erupted for a game-high 27 points, 21 in the second half, as the Aggies charged back from a nine-point second-quarter deficit for the win.
“She can create her shot off of anybody,” Texas A&M coach Gary Blair said. “The sky's unlimited for her.”
“I thought she did a nice job of not only scoring,” Fargas said, “but making her teammates life a little easier by her ability to pass the basketball.”
Carter, who was 12 of 12 at the free-throw line, committed six turnovers but countered them with seven assists.
The Aggies got bogged down in foul trouble midway through the second quarter. With Carter and forward Anriel Howard on the bench, the Lady Tigers took advantage. LSU went on a 10-0 run, taking a 37-28 lead with 1:57 left on a jumper from the right baseline by Chloe Jackson.
A&M cut the deficit to 39-34 at halftime and carried over to the third what turned out to be a 17-2 run, leading 45-39 at the 7:31 mark on a Carter 3-pointer. The Aggies went up nine themselves, 56-47, on a jumper by Jasmine Lumpkin at the 3:00 mark.
Like the Aggies, LSU fought back. Down 56-53 after three quarters, the Lady Tigers took a 65-64 lead with 3:55 left on a pair of technical free throws by Jackson. But Khaalia Hillsman, the Aggies’ massive 6-foot-5 center, came back with a basket and a free throw after being fouled by Yasmine Bidikuindila for a 67-65 A&M lead at the 3:14 mark.
It was the 25th lead change of the game. It was also the last. LSU only managed four points the rest of the way on a pair of baskets by Ayana Mitchell.
“We just didn't execute on the defensive end, and we just let them get too many open looks,” Jackson said. “We didn't execute on the offensive end, and when they went on a run we didn't really have an answer.”
In many respects, LSU more than held its own against the bigger Aggies.
Though three inches shorter than Hillsman, 6-2 forward Ayana Mitchell had a double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds plus four assists, the latter two stats both game highs. LSU outrebounded the Aggies 39-38 and had 10 turnovers and seven steals to A&M’s 16 and 6.
But it wasn’t enough.
“On to the next,” said a tearful senior Raigyne Louis, trying to find a positive. She tied Mitchell with a team-high 17 points, followed by Jackson with 16. “We’ve got to get ready for the NCAA tournament. It sucks, but we are on to the next.”
For the Lady Tigers, it must seem odd how quickly “the next” is on their agenda.