Early deficits and late droughts added up to defeat for the LSU Lady Tigers last Monday against No. 14 Texas A&M and Thursday versus No. 12 Tennessee.
On Sunday, the Lady Tigers flipped the script, coming out hot and finishing stronger against the highest-ranked team of a highly challenging week, upsetting No. 9 Georgia 62-54 before an announced pink-clad crowd of 5,676 in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
LSU’s best win of the season to date — the Lady Tigers’ only previous victory against a ranked opponent was a 71-63 win over No. 12 West Virginia in a November tournament in Miami — pushed its record to 14-10 overall and 5-6 in the Southeastern Conference.
Modest numbers by the typically lofty standards of LSU women’s basketball. But for a program in rebuilding mode, it put LSU back on track to finishing at least .500 in SEC play.
That’s likely to be a must if the Lady Tigers are to be playing in the PMAC when they host first- and second-round NCAA tournament games again in March.
“It really motivates us to finish out the rest of the season strong,” senior guard Adrienne Webb said. “We came in with high intensity, knowing we were going to win.”
Against A&M and Tennessee, LSU fell behind 9-0 off the tip and struggled down the stretch. A&M outscored LSU 13-1 in the final four minutes of its 74-57 win, and Tennessee took advantage of missed free throws and a critical turnover to score five straight points in the final 16 seconds to nip LSU 64-62.
Against Georgia (20-4, 8-3), LSU scored first on a basket by Theresa Plaisance and weathered a 7-0 Lady Bulldogs run with a pair of Webb 3-pointers to trail only 9-8 five minutes in.
LSU took command late in a seesaw first half, finishing on an 8-2 run to take a 31-25 halftime lead thanks to a putback basket by freshman forward Derreyal Youngblood.
Georgia rallied with an 8-0 surge to take a 40-38 lead with 13:02 left on a fast-break basket by Jasmine James. But LSU cracked back with an 8-0 run of its own, taking the lead for good on a putback basket by freshman guard Danielle Ballard.
Ballard made just 2 of 17 shots, but the slippery 5-foot-9 guard piled up 15 rebounds, a season-high for any LSU player in an SEC game.
Junior guard Jeanne Kenney, still hobbled slightly by the sprained knee she suffered against A&M, said a jumper Plaisance made off an inbound pass to tie the score at 40 with 11:47 to go was the game’s critical moment.
“Theresa told me to get her the ball,” said Kenney, who had 11 points. “That’s a testament to her growth.”
Georgia got within 53-52 with 1:46 left on a basket by Anne Marie Armstrong. But LSU had the best finishing kick.
Plaisance drained a turnaround 12-foot jumper from the right side of the lane for a 55-52 lead with 1:33 left. The Lady Tigers held Georgia at bay by converting 7 of 10 free throws.
Plaisance, the SEC’s leading scorer coming in at 18 points per game, finished with a team-high 13 points, nine rebounds and three blocks. Webb added 12 points and five rebounds as LSU outboarded the athletic Lady Bulldogs 53-45.
Forward Jasmine Hassell hassled LSU all day, recording 18 points and 12 rebounds. Tiaria Griffin was Georgia’s only other double-figure scorer with 10 points.
“There’s no question we played hard and, for most of the day, we played smart,” said Georgia coach Andy Landers, who left Baton Rouge three wins shy of 900 career victories. “We didn’t hit shots and missed some good looks at the basket. We switched from man to zone and had success when we switched. It’s not like we played horrible, but you have to give LSU credit. They took it inside like they had to, and it worked in the second half.”
LSU shot only 33.9 percent, but Georgia was worse at 30.1 percent, including 3 of 17 (17.6 percent) from 3-point range.
“I thought we were effective at the beginning at trying to disrupt their guard play,” LSU coach Nikki Caldwell said. “In the second half, we mixed it up a bit and played some man — especially late in the game — and we were able to play confident.”
“We couldn’t have done it without Danielle’s 15 rebounds and Danielle and Adrienne’s defense up top,” Kenney said. “They couldn’t figure out what to do.”
Perhaps what LSU should do is wear pink more often. The Lady Tigers wore pink uniforms and shoes for their annual Pink Game to raise breast cancer awareness, improving to 6-0 in home pink games, including 3-0 against Georgia.
LSU has won seven straight in the PMAC against Georgia, all against ranked teams.
The Lady Tigers have a week off before visiting Mississippi State on Feb. 17. LSU’s next home game is Feb. 24 against No. 10 Kentucky.