At a recent practice, LSU women’s basketball coach Nikki Caldwell made Jenna Deemer run sprints if she didn’t take an open shot.
Next time, it was her teammates that had to run.
The message was clear: the freshman from New Orleans’ Ursuline High School with the silky jumper needed to seize her offensive opportunities.
Message received Thursday night. Deemer went 7 of 10 from the field including 3 of 6 from 3-point range for a career-high 22 points and was part of a stifling defense that led the Lady Tigers to an important 70-41 rout of Ole Miss before 1,326 fans at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
“This is a player’s dream,” Caldwell said of Deemer. “You’re selfish if you don’t shoot it.
“Her teammates have an unbelievable amount of confidence in this freshman. When Jenna comes in the game, we’re looking for her.”
Deemer said she was feeling her shot well before the game tipped off at 8 p.m. on the SEC Network.
“I got more shots up (in practice) and coach talked to me about feeling comfortable and not complacent,” she said. “That sparked me.”
LSU’s overall record is a still modest 11-9, but the Lady Tigers are now 5-3 in Southeastern Conference play. That’s good for a tie for fourth with Kentucky, which LSU upset two weeks ago, and idle Georgia.
Ole Miss tumbled to 14-7 and 4-4 with its third straight loss.
Deemer’s offense aside, the biggest story of the game was LSU’s defense.
LSU’s stock 2-3 zone and full-court press smothered the Rebels. Ole Miss shot just 23.2 percent for the game after shooting 16.7 percent in the first half and committed 30 turnovers. Seven of those were off steals by Danielle Ballard, who chipped in with 11 points and five assists.
“We’ve come to realize how important our defense is,” Ballard said. “We’re being more aggressive, talking on defense. Communicating, that’s one of the key things.”
It was the fewest points allowed by LSU this season and the fewest the Lady Tigers have allowed in an SEC game since a 76-42 win over Alabama on Feb. 28, 2013.
It was the sixth-fewest points scored by Ole Miss in that program’s history.
“All credit to LSU but we didn’t play very well tonight,” Ole Miss coach Matt Insell said. “They took us out of some things and we got real stagnant against their zone.”
The game marked the return of LSU senior guard DaShawn Harden. She sat out the Lady Tigers’ loss last Thursday at Tennessee with an eye injury after taking an elbow to the face Jan. 18 in a win over Kentucky.
Harden came in with 16:10 left in the first half and played 19 minutes as she finished with eight points.
She was one of a Mardi Gras parade of Lady Tigers to see action as Caldwell played all of her 12 available players. Ten of them scored.
Raigyne Moncrief scored on a drive 41 seconds into the game and LSU never trailed, going up as many as 17 points in the first half before settling on a 35-19 halftime advantage.
The Lady Tigers pushed their lead to as many as 33 points in the second half, the last at the 2:41 mark on a pair of free throws by Stephanie Amichia for a 68-35 edge.
Danielle McCray led Ole Miss with 15 points. Tia Faleru, the Rebels’ preseason All-SEC forward who LSU made a point of emphasis defensively, had just five points and seven rebounds on 2 of 9 shooting.
LSU returns to action at 6 p.m. Monday when it hosts Missouri.
The game marks the start of a winnable but nonetheless pivotal three-game stretch against Mizzou, at Auburn and home against Alabama, teams that are a combined 3-21 in SEC play, before the Lady Tigers play Feb. 12 at No. 1 South Carolina.
Winning these next three games are crucial to inflating LSU’s once flat NCAA tournament hopes, but Caldwell doesn’t want her players thinking about that.
“We talk about staying in the moment,” she said. “They have an idea but we really don’t have many conversations our biggest opponent will be ourselves.”