The LSU women’s basketball team hopes it can finally find a successful formula on the road, but it may have to beat Arkansas at its own game at 7 p.m. Thursday in Fayetteville, Ark.
The Lady Tigers (10-5, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) are 1-4 on the road to start this season. For LSU coach Nikki Caldwell, whose team is averaging 75.3 points per game, the remedy is in plain view.
“This team is still searching for its identity,” Caldwell said. “It’s one of the strongest teams that we’ve put on the floor offensively. But on the flip side, defensively, it is one of the weaker teams historically that we’ve put on the floor.”
Despite being the SEC’s third-best scoring offense, the Lady Tigers are giving up an SEC-worst 66.9 points per contest to go with an SEC-worst 38.8 rebounds per game.
“I do believe that when you play on the road, it boils down to your defensive board play, and that’s an area where we’ve been challenged,” Caldwell said. “Looking at last year’s team, I know we had defenders and rebounders, so we were able to get through those games on the road.”
Arkansas (12-3, 0-2) is not much better on the boards. The Razorbacks are snagging just fewer than 41 rebounds per game to put them in the bottom half of the conference.
Defensively, however, Arkansas allows just 54.3 points per game.
The two squads split their two regular-season games against each other last season, with both teams winning on the other’s home court, but LSU won a 41-40 slugfest in the conference tournament.
“They look a lot different,” Arkansas coach Tom Colleen said. “LSU has always hung their hats on defense in the past. They lost a lot of really good players, but they still have a lot of similar players, players that we’re familiar with anyway.
“At times they’re playing four guards and one post … so they’re a little bit harder to guard. Offensively, they’re a little bit more aggressive. I think that Ballard kid made a huge difference for them.”
Freshman guard Danielle Ballard has been an offensive force since arriving at LSU, leading all SEC freshmen by averaging 15.2 points per game.
She’s earned SEC Freshman of the Week honors three times this season, most recently last week after tallying a combined 57 points, 24 rebounds and nine steals against New Orleans, Ole Miss and Florida.
“Following Danielle’s career, you knew she was a competitor, you knew she could score the ball in different ways,” Caldwell said. “But the thing she’s learning how to do is run a team. I didn’t know she was going to emerge this quickly as a leader.”
LSU also boasts the SEC’s leading scorer in junior forward Theresa Plaisance.
The New Orleans native is scoring 18.1 points per game this season and providing a headache for coaches who can’t figure out how to guard a 6-foot-5 player who can play both the post and the perimeter.
“If she’s the only post player on the floor when they’re in their four-guard lineup, you pretty much have to put your (center) on her,” Colleen said. “If you put your center on her, there’s a lot of centers in this league that can’t go out and guard at the 3-point line.”
The Razorbacks will counter with suffocating defense and their own prolific scorer in junior forward Sarah Watkins. Despite starting only four games this season, Watkins leads Arkansas in scoring. Though foul trouble has limited Watkins’ playing time, she averages 13.5 points per game in a little more than 21 minutes per game.
“We just need (Watkins) to be a little more consistent for us, and if she does that, we’ll be fine,” Colleen said. “We definitely depend on her. We need her to be a factor for us.”