On the walls of the LSU women’s basketball practice gym, five Final Four banners serve as reminders of the program’s rich past.
Nikki Caldwell, who took over the Lady Tigers in April after spending three seasons as the UCLA coach, said Thursday at LSU basketball’s media day that it’s time to bridge the gap between the past and the future.
The sooner the better.
“There is no exception to not getting to the Final Four,” Caldwell said. “We definitely want to make that the destination for us every year that we take the floor.”
Caldwell’s first LSU squad began practice last week with five seniors among 10 returning letter-winners, not to mention McDonald’s All-American Krystal Forthan leading a list of three newcomers.
LaSondra Barrett returns after earning All-Southeastern Conference honors as a junior. Adrienne Webb is coming off a breakout sophomore season in which she averaged a team-high 12.8 points with 73 3-pointers.
If the Lady Tigers catch on to their new coach’s up-tempo attack, Caldwell believes they can be Final Four-good in her first year.
“We’re really trying to get them to practice at an intensity that they are not accustomed to,” Caldwell said. “The challenge for this team is for them to not only practice at this level of intensity of a team going after a national championship, but they also need to improve every day.”
LSU came within two wins of a national championship in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008, reaching the Final Four’s semifinals each of those years. But they have not been past the second round since then.
Last year, despite finishing tied for fifth in the SEC standings, the Lady Tigers missed the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1998.
Caldwell took over for Van Chancellor, who coached LSU to its last Final Four appearance.
“Most everyone is returning, so we have a lot of experience on the court,” Webb said. “We are all looking forward to getting back out there and showing what we have. Everyone is getting ready for this season. We are hungry. We are hungry to get back into the swing of things and to get back into the (NCAA) tournament.”
Caldwell lit up when asked about Forthan, a 6-foot-4 forward who is versatile enough to play on the outside.
Sheila Boykin and Anne Pederson, the team’s other two freshmen, will be counted on as well.
“Make no mistake, the game does not know your age,” Caldwell said. “I am not concerned with you being a senior or a freshman. I am more concerned if you can play the game the right way. They’ve all shown that they can. It is going to be a battle every day in practice to compete for minutes and starting jobs.”