Let’s see how far they’ve come.
In less than a month the LSU Lady Tigers have gone from Southeastern Conference cellar dweller to a tie for third place with wins in six of their last seven games.
Now, comes the ultimate test, a trip to face No. 1-ranked South Carolina on Thursday.
Tipoff is set for 6 p.m. CST at Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, South Carolina, between the Lady Tigers (14-9 overall, 8-3 SEC) and the Gamecocks (22-1, 10-0).
The last time these two teams met LSU was completely outclassed, as South Carolina rolled to a 75-51 win in Baton Rouge.
But that game was when junior guard Danielle Ballard was still suspended. And Ballard has been a huge difference in LSU’s reversal of fortune.
Sidelined for the Lady Tigers’ first 14 games — the South Carolina game was the last game of Ballard’s suspension — she has returned to lead LSU in scoring with 13.8 points per game and has reached double figures in seven straight games.
“Danielle makes a huge difference because that’s one more person that you’ve got to put on your scouting report,” LSU coach Nikki Caldwell said. “You’ve got to recognize how good she is as a basketball player. More importantly, she’s a player that gives us calmness where certain teammates are now in their respective positions. They are not feeling that they have to carry the load, Raigyne Moncrief and DaShawn Harden in particular.
“Now, can she make up that deficit that we had in our last outing against South Carolina? You can’t say that, but I know that our team is better than where we were when we did play them before.”
Ballard’s presence helped created more scoring opportunities for Moncrief, who earned her first career SEC Player of the Week honors Monday after averaging 14.3 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game in three Lady Tigers victories.
The sophomore guard averages 11.3 points per game and a team-best 7.0 rebounds per contest. Senior guard DaShawn Harden is coming off the bench after 11 starts earlier this season to average 10.6 points per game and leads LSU with 31 3-pointers.
South Carolina’s psyche could be in question after Monday’s 87-62 rout by No. 2 Connecticut on the road.
“They humbled us,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said.
Despite the loss to UConn, Caldwell said the Gamecocks still present LSU with an exciting challenge.
“This gives us a chance to see how far we’ve grown from the first time we’ve played them in early January to now,” she said. “I do feel as though we’re a better basketball team. We’ve been playing very tough on the defensive end.
“When you’re on the road, there are a few things that we always talk about and we concentrate on. It starts with our defense and our board play. We also talk about how we’ve got to make layups and free throws. We have to take care of the basketball. Those things are going to be keys for us.”
UConn coach Geno Auriemma may have been irritated at Staley for keeping star forward A’ja Wilson at home to play for the Gamecocks.
The 6-foot-5 freshman forward from Hopkins, South Carolina, is second on the team with 13.1 points and 6.9 rebounds per game.
Junior guard Tiffany Mitchell leads South Carolina with 14.9 points per game.
The game comes on the heels of the LSU men’s narrow 71-69 loss Tuesday at home against No. 1 Kentucky. This will be the first time since the 1979-80 season that LSU’s men’s and women’s teams have played No. 1 teams in the same week.
That season, the Lady Tigers lost 84-56 to Louisiana Tech on Jan. 14 while the LSU men lost 78-75 at DePaul on Jan. 20.
LSU returns home next Thursday at 7 p.m. to host Georgia.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.