LSU’s once mountain of a lead was crumbling, melting, landsliding away in the face of a shocking Missouri rally.
The Lady Tigers had a 20-point with 15:50 to play, but Missouri fought back and actually went ahead by a point with 4:58 remaining on a 3-pointer by Maddie Stock, just the third of the night for a team that averages nearly eight per game.
The only thing LSU seemed to have going for it: The Lady Tigers knew just how much effort Missouri was having to expend to come back from such a yawning deficit.
“We’ve been in Missouri’s situation,” LSU coach Nikki Caldwell said. “We know the energy it takes to get back in the game. I told our team we had another run in us.”
In a sense, LSU’s early-season struggles in games where it had to rebound from its own huge deficits paid off.
The Lady Tigers dammed up the Missouri flood of points, responding with some clutch stops and clutch scoring of their own for a 74-65 victory Monday night before 1,482 fans at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
The nervy yet crucial victory pushed LSU’s record to 12-9 overall and 6-3 in the Southeastern Conference as the Lady Tigers start the second half of league play.
LSU moved into a fourth-place tie with Kentucky, which the Lady Tigers upset Jan. 18. Were the SEC tournament to start tomorrow, LSU would have the No. 4 seed.
LSU now has won four of its last five to continue reviving its once dormant NCAA tournament hopes. Mizzou dropped to 12-10 and 2-7 in SEC play.
This game was the start of an important and winnable three-game stretch for LSU against the bottom three teams in the SEC standings.
Up next is a trip to Auburn (9-13, 0-9) at 6 p.m. Thursday. Then comes a 4 p.m. Sunday home game against Alabama (12-12, 1-8) before a road game at No. 1 South Carolina on Feb. 12.
That game aside, LSU has a chance to finish strong with only one other game — the regular-season and home finale against Texas A&M on March 1 — against a team in the top six in the SEC standings.
But first came holding serve at home against Missouri, a task that turned out to be more trouble than it originally appeared.
LSU took a 42-31 halftime lead on Raigyne Moncrief’s first college 3-pointer just before the horn. The Lady Tigers pushed their advantage to 20 on another Moncrief jumper just over four minutes into the second half.
Then, the struggles. LSU was intent on stopping Missouri’s perimeter offense, but the visitors pounded the Lady Tigers down low. Missouri outscored LSU 34-14 in the paint, led by a game-high 23 points and 12 rebounds from forward Jordan Frericks.
“When they took the lead, we were kind of shaky,” Moncrief said. “But we had to hold our ground and make things happen defensively and offensively, pass the ball and get open looks.”
LSU tied the score at 59 on a free throw by Danielle Ballard, who then stole the inbound pass near midcourt and made another free throw.
After a Missouri free throw tied the score at 60, Ballard gave LSU back the lead for good with a three-point play with 4:06 remaining. Moncrief added a pair of big jumpers, the second for a 67-62 lead with 1:41 left, and she and Ballard combined to make 7 of 8 free throws in the final 1:07 to hold Mizzou at bay.
Moncrief finished with 21 points. Ballard had 16 points and Rina Hill added 10.
Missouri senior guard Morgan Eye, the NCAA’s active leader in career 3-pointers with 339 and the SEC leader this season with 56, was held to 1 point on 0-3 shooting beyond the arc.
“I was really proud of our girls’ effort and our resiliency,” Missouri coach Robin Pingeton said. “Hats off to LSU and to Nikki. She’s got a great team. We didn’t have an answer for Raigyne Moncrief or Danielle Ballard. Those two kids are really special players, and they’ve got an incredible supporting cast.”
“We talked about owning your power, and Ballard owned hers,” she said. “Late game, she’s one of those players that has proven that she can put a team on her back.
“Raigyne Moncrief did a nice job as well being a dribble-drive type of player for the pull-up jumpers. So you’ve got two different players. One is aggressive to the basket, and one was really knocking down that mid-range jump shot.”
Ballard did not attend the postgame news conference because of what LSU said was an academic commitment. Caldwell said there was no new issue for Ballard, who was suspended for the Lady Tigers’ first 14 games.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.