When January began, the LSU women’s basketball team looked like its season was going nowhere.
Now the calendar has flipped to February, a month filled with all sorts of real possibilities for the Lady Tigers, who find themselves trending toward the top of the Southeastern Conference standings.
LSU went 6-6 in nonconference play, its worst such record in 20 years. But with the return of once-suspended guard Danielle Ballard and a growing trust in the 2-3 zone, the Lady Tigers went a solid 5-3 in the first half of their SEC schedule.
There’s an awful long way to go, but a win Monday against Missouri in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center (6 p.m., SEC Network) would put LSU back in a tie for fourth in the SEC standings with Kentucky, which it upset 84-79 on Jan. 18.
The top four teams in the standings get byes from the first two rounds in the SEC tournament.
Historically, the top four teams in the SEC have gotten NCAA tournament bids. Currently, ESPN analyst Charlie Crème projects seven SEC teams in the field of 64, with LSU grouped in the “next four out” after the “first four out,” a group that includes Tulane.
LSU (11-9 overall) goes into Monday’s game coming off a 70-41 rout Thursday of Ole Miss. The Lady Tigers recorded a season-best 22 steals and handed out 17 assists on 24 field goals while holding the Rebels to 23.2 percent shooting.
LSU has a great chance to pad its record in the next three games against Missouri, at Auburn and against Alabama, which are a combined 3-23 in SEC play.
But there are still dangers lurking in the SEC’s depths, none more clear and present than that of Missouri. The Tigers may be just 12-9 and 2-6 in SEC play, but they can shoot themselves into any game. Missouri leads the SEC in 3-pointers made (161) and attempted (504) and is fifth in 3-point shooting percentage (.319).
Conversely, LSU has made just 65 of 194 shots from beyond the arc, though the Lady Tigers rank third in 3-point percentage (.335).
“What’s been key for us against Missouri has been having a contested hand on their 3-point attempts,” coach Nikki Caldwell said. “You can look at certain games, and they’ve put up 30 3s in a game. You’ve got to know where a player like Morgan Eye is on the floor because she is deadly from the outside. She has deep range and a very quick release.”
The aptly named Eye leads the SEC with 56 3-pointers. Teammate Maddie Stock ranks seventh with 36.
Jordan Frericks leads Missouri at 13.1 points and 9.8 rebounds per game, the latter stat ranking second in the SEC.
Ballard has moved into the top 10 in three categories during conference play: sixth with 13.8 points per game, tied for seventh in assists (3.0) and second in steals (2.8). Ballard has strung together four straight double-figure scoring games and is shooting 65.9 percent from the field (29-of-44) in that stretch.
As part of its annual “Pack the PMAC” promotion, LSU is selling general admission tickets to Monday’s game for $1. LSU students and faculty will be admitted free with a valid university ID card, and the first 1,000 fans will get a gold LSU women’s basketball T-shirt.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.