Ask LSU’s Anne Pedersen, Akilah Bethel and Ann Jones if their senior season has gone the way they would have liked, and they candidly will tell you no.
The losses have outnumbered the wins 2-to-1, even after Sunday’s historic 57-56 upset of Tennessee that knocked the Lady Volunteers out of The Associated Press rankings for the first time since 1985.
But if it’s true that adversity reveals character and can bring people closer, then this season has given them something else that a championship or even a trip to the NCAA tournament can’t match.
“I have absolutely no regrets,” said Pedersen, a native of Denmark and a fifth-year grad student.
“I didn’t come back to, well everyone wants to win. But I came back for the team, and I came back to still be a part of LSU because it’s a big part of my life. I love my teammates and I enjoy my coaches. You’ve got to take the good with the bad. Every year has been a different experience.”
Thursday’s game with Florida (7:30 p.m., SEC Network+) marks the final game in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center for LSU’s seniors. Unlike years past, there will be no chance to return for a final curtain call with an NCAA tournament game or two. Even if the Lady Tigers (9-18, 3-11 Southeastern Conference) were to earn an automatic NCAA bid with an unlikely SEC tournament title next week, they would all but certainly be sent on the road.
Instead their road ends here, at the PMAC, where a flood of memories and emotions will mix with the desire to win a game that despite this team’s trials has never deserted them.
“You know that it’s going to be emotional,” LSU coach Nikki Fargas said. “You know that there are going to be some tears shed. The best gift that our underclassmen can give to those seniors is to go out there and fight as hard as they possibly can for that victory.”
Jones is also playing as a graduate student, having received her diploma in December, while Bethel graduates in May. It’s the education they’ve gotten at LSU — on the court and off — that Fargas said will benefit her seniors in the future.
“I think they’ve learned that things are going to happen, and they may not go how you had planned them,” Fargas said. “There is something about them where they get up the next day and they come back and they work together again and again and again. That’s something that I think they will take from here with them for the rest of their lives.”
Fargas said she will start all three seniors, along with junior forward Alexis Hyder, LSU’s leading scorer and rebounder with 11.5 points and 7.8 rebounds per contest, and junior guard Rina Hill (7.8 points, 2.2 assists per game).
Bethel (8.5 ppg, 6.4 rpg), a 6-0 forward, and Pedersen (3.8 ppg, 2.5 rpg), a 6-1 swing player, are regular starters. Jones, a 6-3 reserve forward averaging 5.4 points and 4.0 rebounds per game, will be playing her third game back after missing the previous seven games with a badly sprained ankle.
This will be just the 47th career game for Jones, a transfer from Memphis who had a pair of key baskets in Sunday’s Tennessee win. She’s grateful for the chance to be back for her last home game.
“It’s a blessing to have this opportunity,” she said. “I’m excited to be back in the PMAC again, though it is bittersweet.”
Bethel, a transfer from West Virginia, has played through the past few games with a broken nose, one of a litany of player injuries plus the key dismissal of All-SEC senior guard Danielle Ballard that have dragged down the Lady Tigers this season.
Bethel has played with a protective mask that limits her vision, but as Fargas might have advised, she’s embraced the adversity.
“It’s limited my vision a lot,” she said. “But in practicing and playing, I’ve learned not to do things I can’t see.”
Bethel was named Wednesday to the SEC’s Community Service Team. One player from each SEC team is recognized for their volunteer efforts each season. … Florida (20-7, 8-6) beat LSU 53-45 in Gainesville, Florida, on Jan. 17. LSU is 13-4 against the Gators in the PMAC.