It almost seems redundant to say a win over Tennessee in women’s basketball is a big one, though not as huge as it used to be.
But for the LSU Lady Tigers, Sunday’s 70-59 upset of the No. 10-ranked Lady Vols checked all the boxes that they very much needed to mark in this particular season. And for that reason, it was as big as an LSU win over Tennessee has been in quite some time.
In the middle of a season that wasn’t going awry but definitely didn’t appear bound for anyplace special, LSU got literally its biggest win in years in the midst of the toughest stretch this season will throw at the Lady Tigers.
“We needed that,” said senior guard Raygine Louis, who had 18 points to make her the 14th player in LSU history with 1,500 or more points for her career. “It gives us confidence and shows something to everyone who didn’t believe in us.
“We're supposed to do this.”
Maybe that is the Lady Tigers’ expectation of themselves, but it isn’t one that is necessarily shared by the rest of the women’s basketball world.
Two seasons removed from an injury and suspension-plagued 10-win season, and following LSU’s second straight one-and-done NCAA tournament appearance in the past three years, the Lady Tigers are fighting to reclaim some of their past relevance. Coming off a 69-59 loss at Texas A&M that dropped LSU to 12-6 and 4-3 in Southeastern Conference play, the Lady Tigers were rated as one of the last four teams in the NCAA tournament, according to ESPN’s latest bracketology.
LSU’s chances looked even shakier than that. The Lady Tigers had to come home to play Tennessee, then Thursday host No. 21 Georgia, followed by trips to Kentucky and Auburn then a home rematch with No. 15 Texas A&M. On paper, this was the toughest task. Tennessee’s RPI was No. 8 entering Sunday’s contest (LSU was at No. 44).
This will play well with the NCAA women’s selection committee. This was just LSU’s second win over a top-50 team to date, the other coming Jan. 4 at No. 12 Missouri. And in this six-game stretch with four tough games to go (10-11 Kentucky is uncharacteristically the weak link), LSU needed get some more quality wins, not just play good teams close.
“We showed we’re not only capable of battling with them, but that we can be very good ourselves,” LSU coach Nikki Fargas said.
Though Tennessee doesn’t look like the national championship-timber of old Lady Vols’ squads, it’s still talented, well coached and flat out big. LSU point guard Jaelyn Richard-Harris, generously listed at 5-foot-4, looked like a small moon orbiting Tennessee’s 6-6 center Mercedes Russell when she drove the lane.
But the Lady Tigers turned the tables on the Lady Vols by outhustling them. LSU shockingly outrebounded Tennessee 44-32 and had 20 second-chance points to the Lady Vols’ 10, leaving Tennessee coach Holly Warlick shaking her head in disgust.
“That’s just heart,” Warlick said. “That’s want. That’s the will to. You’ve got to push back.”
LSU pushed back, and when the bracketologies and RPIs come out this week, the Lady Tigers are likely to reap a big reward.
Now they have to sustain it.