If surviving to advance is the key to unlocking success in the NCAA tournament, the LSU Lady Tigers have cracked that code better than just about anyone.
They survived a transfer, a disciplinary dismissal, one of their players being struck down by a rare malady and often their own shortcomings since the last time they bounced a basketball across the NCAA stage.
Now the Lady Tigers prepare to launch into another lengthy postseason adventure they hope will take them all of 80 miles from their campus to the Women’s Final Four in New Orleans Arena two weeks from now, where the game’s spotlights will shine brightest of all.
Still, for the Lady Tigers just to be here, getting a chance to be in the NCAA’s field of 64, is achievement in itself for a team that spent much of this season looking star-crossed and destined for heartbreak.
“To have this chance to play in the NCAA tournament, it’s a great feat,” junior guard Jeanne Kenney said. “Definitely it’s a clean slate. It’s a whole new season.”
Whether it’s a season that consists of one game or six or something in between, it begins at approximately 6:30 p.m. Sunday when LSU (20-11), the No. 6 seed in the Spokane Regional, takes on No. 11 Green Bay (29-2) in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
The winner will play at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday in a second-round contest against the winner of Sunday’s 4:15 p.m. game between No. 3 seed Penn State (25-5) and No. 14 Cal Poly (21-10). Both of Sunday’s games are on ESPN2.
Back in early February, it looked as though the Lady Tigers would be sweeping floors and carrying water for the teams playing here in the NCAA tournament, as coach Nikki Caldwell threatened they would do, instead of getting to play.
In the end, this would-be Cinderella got its chores done in time to go dancing. LSU won seven of its past eight games to easily earn an at-large berth.
“The difference is we were doing the little things,” said Theresa Plaisance, LSU’s All-Southeastern Conference junior forward. “Coach put the emphasis on defense and rebounding. It worked out for us then. We’ll have to see how it works out in the future.”
In Green Bay, LSU drew a first-round opponent that belies its seeding and will give them a workout for certain.
The Phoenix may be seeded No. 11, but it’s No. 20 in the Associated Press poll. Green Bay just won an astonishing 15th straight Horizon League regular-season title and comes into the tournament with a senior-laden team that has gone with the same starting lineup in all 31 games. And it’s a team that has shrugged off the intimidation factor of playing an NCAA tournament game on the road, having won 71-57 at Iowa State last year.
“We know Green Bay is a great team,” Kenney said.
Green Bay coach Kevin Borseth had similar things to say about LSU, which he expects to give his team challenges it hasn’t seen before.
“When you dissect that team, you see kids around the basket that are big, that can play both offensively and defensively,” he said. “We haven’t seen that size yet this year. You look at the perimeter, and you see the quickness. We haven’t seen a lot of that, either. They pose problems inside and out for us.”
Plaisance, the game’s tallest player at 6-foot-5, leads LSU and ranks second in the SEC at 17.4 points per game along with 8.3 rebounds and an SEC-best 2.6 blocks per contest.
Freshman guard Danielle Ballard averages 12.1 points and has tied the school record with 93 steals. Senior guard Adrienne Webb, whom Green Bay players respectfully if anonymously referred to as “Number 10,” is seventh in the SEC at 14.1 points per game.
Green Bay, which ranks second nationally allowing just 48.1 points per game, is led by 5-11 senior guard Adrian Ritchie, an All-Horizon pick who averages 14.2 points. Senior forward Stephanie Sension, at 6-3 Green Bay’s tallest player, is third on the team with 10.1 points and 4.5 rebounds per game.