Familiar face greets LSU women Monday night

LSU women's acting head coach Bob Starkey shouts instructions to his team during the second half of the NCAA women's Fresno regional final in Fresno, Calif., on Monday, March 26, 2007.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
LSU women's acting head coach Bob Starkey shouts instructions to his team during the second half of the NCAA women's Fresno regional final in Fresno, Calif., on Monday, March 26, 2007.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Bob Starkey has never had a hard time finding a job, but Geno Auriemma wanted to make sure he knew he had his help if he needed it.

It was in the swirling emotional moments after LSU beat Connecticut in the 2007 Fresno Regional to advance to the Women’s Final Four when Auriemma sought out Starkey.

Starkey was serving as LSU’s interim head coach after the shocking and sudden resignation of Pokey Chatman on the eve of that year’s NCAA tournament. If he needed help finding a job, Auriemma told him, he would assist Starkey any way he could.

As it turned out, Starkey spent four more seasons at LSU under Van Chancellor. He then worked a year at Central Florida and Monday night returns to the school he called home for 25 years as an assistant with Texas A&M for the first Southeastern Conference game between the programs at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

Emotional by nature, Starkey knows to expect a surge of feelings before the 8 p.m. tipoff between the Lady Tigers (13-8, 4-4) and No. 16 Aggies (17-5, 7-1) on ESPN2.

“I haven’t really had any time to contemplate returning to LSU,” Starkey said last week, “though I’m sure I’ll have a wide range of emotions when we walk into the PMAC. The most important thing I took away from 25 years at LSU were the relationships with the players I coached and the people I worked with — relationships I’ve continued to maintain and treasure.”

Starkey came to LSU under longtime men’s coach Dale Brown, then moved over in 1999 to work with the women under the late Sue Gunter. In 2010-11, his final season at LSU, he coached five current Lady Tigers: SEC scoring and blocks leader Theresa Plaisance, Adrienne Webb, Jeanne Kenney, Bianca Lutley and Shanece McKinney.

“Watching the Lady Tigers on film, I have been extremely impressed with the talent — as well as pleased to see some of the players I left behind mature into a very skilled offensive team,” Starkey said. “Playing four guards makes them difficult to defend.”

LSU has settled into a one-post, four-guard lineup with Plaisance (18.2 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.8 blocks per game) at forward and Webb (14.0 ppg), Lutley (10.2 ppg), Kenney (5.0 ppg, 4.6 assists) and freshman Danielle Ballard (12.8 ppg) at guard.

The game promises an intriguing matchup down low between the 6-foot-5 Plaisance and 6-4 Aggies center Kelsey Bone (17.1 points, 9.7 rebounds per game).

“She’s one of the best players in the country,” Plaisance said. “She has a great inside game. When her game isn’t there, she knows how to dish the ball out.”

LSU comes in off its first SEC road win of the season, a 59-55 victory Thursday at Auburn. A&M has won five straight, capped by a 60-52 win at home Thursday over Vanderbilt, and can tie Tennessee for first place in the SEC with a victory.

“We are going to see some great play from both teams,” LSU coach Nikki Caldwell said. “Each team understands that every win in the SEC is an important win.”

Monday’s game marks the start of a three-game homestand for the Lady Tigers, all against ranked teams. LSU hosts No. 9 Tennessee on Thursday and No. 13 Georgia on Sunday.

This has been designated as the Gold Game by LSU, with fans encouraged to wear the color and the first 2,000 fans receiving gold LSU T-shirts.