The best medicine for a frustrating loss is to get another shot at the same opponent, and the Southeastern Conference women’s tournament bracket has obliged LSU.
The Tigers (8-12) get a rematch against the Mississippi State team that they lost to one week earlier in the tournament at 11 a.m. Thursday at Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, South Carolina.
Even more important than a measure of revenge is that Mississippi State represents a stepping-stone toward a possible NCAA tournament berth, although LSU would probably need more than a victory against the Bulldogs. Mississippi State (10-8) finished one spot behind eighth-place LSU, but is among the field of 64, according to ESPN bracketologist Charlie Crème.
Worse for LSU is that the Tigers aren’t even among the first eight out. Ole Miss (10-10) is in that number after finishing 12th in the SEC and losing twice to LSU. LSU’s RPI is 61 compared to Ole Miss at 118.
LSU might still find a way in but it would take a victory Thursday and another Friday against No. 1 seed Texas A&M (22-1) for the conversation to start. It’s worth noting A&M’s only loss was to LSU, but like last year LSU is in a late-season fade having lost its past five games.
“They’ve been talking about the SEC getting eight teams in the tournament and we finished eighth,” LSU coach Nikki Fargas said. “We’re not in the conversation and Mississippi State is. We want to be in South Carolina for as long as we can possibly be there. We’re not going there to be one and done. Every win in the SEC tournament can get you closer to the championship and closer to an NCAA championship.”
The solution seems simple for LSU: shoot the ball better. But the Tigers have struggled in that area all season. They’re shooting 39% from the field and have made a habit of going cold for long stretches, allowing opponents to pull away or even flip the lead. LSU led Mississippi State by 10 in the third quarter but was down by nine at the start of the fourth.
Some good news is that not having played since that loss gave injured players time to heal. Tiara Young and Jailin Cherry both have had time to recover, Young from an ankle injury and Cherry from a season full of taking charges. Young injured her ankle in a loss to Arkansas and played sparingly. Cherry had an up-and-down season but was coming on until the past two games.
Winning is an issue of doing more with their opportunities and relying on more than defense and rebounding. LSU had 18 offensive rebounds against Mississippi State but converted them into only eight points. The Tigers have relied on senior point guard Khayla Pointer all season and opponents are well aware.
“We missed a lot of putbacks around the rim,” Fargas said. “We saw some areas we need to challenge our team to be more disciplined and that’s what we’ve been working on. The team that comes with a less quit in them mentality is the team that’s going to win Thursday.
“What we will focus in on is being the hardest working most disciplined team on Thursday — stay glued to the scouting report defense and playing together offensively and ball security is huge for us.”