LSU women’s basketball team to sport different look this season _lowres

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- Akilah Bethel (3) Shanice Norton (2), Ayana Mitchell (5) and other Tigers goes through drills Wednesday at media day for the men's and women's basketball teams at LSU.

After depending on two-time All-Southeastern Conference guard Danielle Ballard for three seasons, perhaps too much at times, the LSU women’s basketball team will look a lot different this season.

While it’s still early in the preseason, more players will have to shoulder the load if the Lady Tigers expect to earn a fifth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance under coach Nikki Caldwell.

Yet, that doesn’t mean LSU won’t have somebody to do what Ballard, who was dismissed from the team in late June, did during her time with the Lady Tigers when the offense needed a spark.

It’s just that it may be more than LSU’s next backcourt all-star candidate — junior guard Raigyne Moncrief.

“There are going to be times where she’s going to be the focal point,” Caldwell said during media day activities on Wednesday. “I think there will be late-game situations where you want the ball in their hand. She’s shown that she’s a player that can make her teammates look good and make them shine.

“But, it’s going to have to be a team effort,” she added. “Everybody is going to have to contribute. Everybody is going to have to step up and be a threat offensively.”

That obviously starts with Moncrief, who is the only one of LSU’s top four scorers returning from a team that went 17-14 overall and 10-6 in the SEC. She was second, scoring 11.8 points a game behind Ballard’s 14.5 average.

LSU’s next four returnees — Jenna Deemer, Anne Pedersen, Akilah Bethel and Rina Hill — combined to average 20.1 points per game.

“The loss of Ballard was hard, (she’s) obviously a great player,” Caldwell said. “This team has grown a lot, and they’re learning that this is a team sport. They learned that through the summer and they’ve learned that obviously in preseason. Everybody is accountable.

“You cannot hide on this roster. It doesn’t matter if you’re a first-year or you’re going into your senior year, what your contribution to this team will mean … it could be the difference in a win or a loss. I think everybody’s on the same page as far as being accountable.”

That could mean more important roles for Deemer, Pedersen, Bethel and Hill — especially Hill, a junior who could be asked to be the full-time floor leader at the point after sharing the role last season with Ballard and Moncrief.

“Rina Hill has stepped up tremendously and grown up a lot over the summer,” Caldwell said.

“Last year, me and Ray (Moncrief) shared the point guard role,” Hill said. “This year, I have to step up a whole lot more so my teammates can rely on me.

“I wanted to be that player last year, but I had to share half the reps. Now, I want to try and take more of that (go-to role) in practice.”

While Moncrief and Hill excelling in the back court during the first 1½ weeks of preseason practice, Caldwell has been impressed with the play of her returning “bigs” inside — forwards Ann Jones, Alexis Hyder and Bethel.

“They’ve done a nice job of just being that established go-to player for us inside,” Caldwell said.

They could all be important because the bulk of LSU’s rebounding last season came from Ballard, who led the team with 7.2 per game, and Moncrief, who was second at 6.7 per outing.

Being able to go deep on her bench is also an exciting possibility for Caldwell.

“I think we are going to have to allow our team to get those reps in practice,” she said. “We’re establishing a starting nucleus and we are this week already starting to see what the rotation is going to look like.

“I want the team to understand their responsibility for the team when their name is called, ‘What can I bring to the team at that point?’ By us practicing that early, it won’t be anything different that they will do in a game. But everybody is going to have to contribute.”

Advocate sportswriter Scott Rabalais contributed to this report.