It only took half a season for Danielle Ballard to prove she was one of the best players in the Southeastern Conference.
Ballard was one of 10 players named Tuesday to the All-SEC coaches’ first team, the conference announced. She also was one of five players named to the SEC All-Defensive team, repeating that honor from her freshman season of 2012-13.
Suspended for LSU’s first 14 games for an unspecified violation of team rules, Ballard was reinstated in time for the Lady Tigers’ third SEC game Jan. 8 against Vanderbilt.
The junior guard scored four points against Vandy and four the next game at Texas A&M. On Jan. 15 at Mississippi State, she poured in 24 points, including a 3-pointer at the end of the first overtime, to lead LSU to a 71-69 double-OT victory.
Ballard has scored in double figures in 12 straight games. In SEC play, she ranks sixth in scoring at 14.3 points per game, eighth in rebounding at 7.2, first in steals at 3.1 and 10th in assists at 2.9.
“I’m glad the other coaches recognize what she’s meant to LSU and the SEC,” LSU coach Nikki Caldwell said. “Not only does she score the basketball, but she’s a great helper on defense and one of the best rebounding guards in the country. Her teammates feed off her energy. She has a presence on the court.”
The 22nd first-team selection in program history, Ballard makes it 12 straight years the Lady Tigers have had at least one player on the SEC first team.
Ballard will lead the Lady Tigers into action Friday in the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament.
LSU (16-12, 10-6 SEC), the No. 4 seed, will play at about 2:30 p.m. against the winner of Thursday’s game between No. 5 Texas A&M (which the Lady Tigers beat 80-63 on Sunday) and the winner of Wednesday’s first-round game between No. 12 Florida and No. 13 Auburn.
The Lady Tigers were scheduled to leave for the tournament site in North Little Rock, Arkansas, on Thursday.
Until they know who they will play, Caldwell said her team has and will be working on self-improvement.
“This time of year, we want to focus on ourselves and how we’re going to defend certain play action,” she said. “Offensively, we’re spending a couple of days on skill development, honing in on what we do best.
“Thursday night, we’ll know who our opponent, but our game plan will not change.”
All tournament games will be on the SEC Network through the quarterfinals, with the semifinals on ESPNU and the final on ESPN.
LSU’s NCAA RPI improved slightly from No. 71 to 69 on Tuesday, still appearing to place the Lady Tigers squarely on the NCAA tournament bubble.
ESPN women’s basketball analyst Charlie Crème on Monday had LSU as a No. 11 seed in the Greensboro regional — and not his group of “last four in” teams, as was the case the week before.
With 10 SEC wins, including three against current top-50 RPI teams (No. 9 Kentucky, No. 25 Mississippi State and No. 27 Texas A&M), Caldwell believes her team has earned a bid regardless of what happens in the SEC tournament.
“Ten wins in the SEC says a lot. All we can do is go out and try to improve our seeding,” she said.
No 10-win SEC team has been left out of the NCAA tournament since the conference went to its 16-game schedule in 2010.
The full NCAA field will be announced Monday, March 16.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.