With its one missing link back in the fold, the LSU women’s basketball team looked ready to run Thursday night.
And during a 64-44 win, it all came together in one crucial sequence.
Returning to game action for the first time all season after an indefinite suspension, Lady Tiger guard Danielle Ballard poked the ball away from Jasmine Jenkins near midcourt off the full court press.
She sped the other way, went up-and-under and laid it in. Her team hadn’t scored a point in more than five minutes. Vanderbilt was in the midst of a 10-0 run that had erased a ten-point LSU lead. Her bucket pushed the Lady Tigers ahead 40-38 with 8:22 remaining.
“Beautiful,” a smiling Raigyne Moncrief said of her teammate’s return. “I think she’s the one that brought us the energy. I know I was hyped coming into the game because of her. The little things she does, push tempo. I was just glad to have her back.”
Utilizing that full court press, the Lady Tigers forced the Commodores into 24 turnovers, scoring 29 points off the takeaways and opening up a transition game to catapult LSU in a 64-44 win in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center on Thursday night.
After Ballard’s transition layup, Vanderbilt’s Rebekah Dahlman clanked a 3-pointer, right into the hands of Lady Tigers forward Sheila Boykin, who fed a speeding Moncrief up court for an easy layup, igniting the bench and crowd and giving LSU a four-point lead.
The layups ignited a 17-0 run that put the Lady Tigers in firm control of what was a sloppy, defensive struggle in each team’s third Southeastern Conference game.
“I thought we were able to disrupt their rhythm offensively by not allowing them to have a full shot clock,” coach Nikki Caldwell said. “I knew that we had depth (to press) and we really needed to get back to working extremely hard. We did so on the defensive end.”
DaShawn Harden paced all scorers with 18 points, while Moncrief added 13 points and five of the Lady Tigers’ 15 steals. LSU also had 18 assists on 24 made field goals, a testament, Caldwell said, to the patience and discipline her team is quickly learning it needs.
“We’ve got to be a team that’s unselfish, got to be a team that doesn’t mind giving up your shot to maybe get a better shot,” Caldwell said. “That’s why we were as efficient as we were on the offensive end.”
Buoyed by a scrappy defensive effort, the Lady Tigers began the game on an 11-6 run, where seven of LSU’s first nine points come off Vanderbilt turnovers and offset the Commodores’ advantage on the offensive glass.
Harden intercepted a Commodore pass at midcourt during Vanderbilt’s second possession, taking it coast-to-coast for the Lady Tigers’ first points of the game, then pumped in a 3-pointer three possessions later off a feed from Moncrief.
Four straight points from Vanderbilt guard Kea Paris cut the Lady Tiger lead to 11-10 and a 3-pointer from Audrey-Ann Caron-Goudreau knotted the score at 13 a minute later.
With the Lady Tigers clinging to a 19-18 lead, Jenna Deemer sandwiched two 3-pointers around Ballard’s driving layup — her first points of the season — to give LSU a 28-23 lead at the break.
Though her stat line wasn’t eye-popping — four points and two steals in 11 minutes of play — Ballard’s return gave LSU a crucial chunk of a team that Caldwell continues to say is searching for an identity.
“We’ve been in a little bit of a losing streak and not winning a lot of games that we should,” Harden said. “Having her back is like that missing little piece of the puzzle that we need to get going.”