East Coast trip for LSU women’s basketball team: First up Rutgers on Saturday, then UConn on Monday _lowres

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- LSU's Anne Pedersen, left, and Akilah Bethel defend UC Santa Barbara's Onome Jemerigbe in the Lady Tigers' 68-50 win Sunday in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

The LSU Lady Tigers head east this weekend, looking to cross a huge, season-defining upset off their Christmas shopping list.

The Lady Tigers (6-4) face Rutgers (8-3) at 1 p.m. Saturday in Piscataway, New Jersey, then travel Monday to Hartford, Connecticut, to take on No. 1-ranked UConn.

“We are going to play in two hostile environments this week,” said LSU coach Nikki Fargas, perhaps stretching understatement to the limit. “It’s going to be a great test for our team. We need to face this challenge head on and go in there with the mindset of controlling the ‘controllables.’

“We put together a very competitive nonconference schedule to prepare us for the challenges we will face not only in the SEC, but also in the NCAA tournament.”

LSU is coming off a two-game homestand in which the Lady Tigers easily outclassed Texas Southern 86-36 and UC Santa Barbara 68-50. This despite a bench withered down to eight available players after a string of injuries that followed the offseason dismissal of two-time All-Southeastern Conference guard Danielle Ballard.

Despite the challenges, senior forward Akilah Bethel is overflowing with youthful exuberance.

“I think we’re excited,” said Bethel, who scored a career-high 18 points against UCSB to earn LSWA player of the week honors. “This season has been redemption for us. Long Beach State, lost last year, came back beat them. Rutgers, we lost (last year) too, so we’re looking to get a big win on the road. Two big wins on the road.

“We’re just ready to compete. They’re two great teams, but we’re ready to go.”

Rutgers has won seven of its past eight games, most recently a 65-26 drubbing Saturday of Savannah State. Kahleah Copper and Tyler Scaife lead the Scarlett Knights in scoring with 17.7 and 15.8 points per game. Copper also leads her team with 7.3 rebounds per game and 2.1 steals per contest.

“They have size, and they have athletic guard play,” Fargas said of Rutgers. “Their transition game is one of the best there is in the country. They will also bring full-court pressure. All of the things we will face on Saturday, we have been preparing for through the schedule we have played up to this point. We hope to go on the road and challenge ourselves to go in there and get the win.”

The Rutgers game will be televised on the Big Ten Network (BTN), while the UConn game will be on SportsNet New York (SNY). Both games can be heard locally on WBRP-FM 107.3 or in the Geaux Zone at www.LSUSports.net.

Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.