From bubble watch to a potential NCAA bracket buster. That’s where the LSU Lady Tigers went after two hours of emotional, inspired and iron-willed basketball Sunday against Kentucky.
A 77-72 upset of the previously No. 8 Wildcats moved LSU, at least for now, from trying to hold a slippery spot on the NCAA tournament bubble to being solidly in the field of 64. LSU will host first- and second-round NCAA tournament games March 24 and 26 at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
Now 17-10 overall and 8-6 in the Southeastern Conference after its fourth straight win — two of those over top-10 SEC foes Georgia and UK — LSU made a huge leap in Monday’s new RPI rankings.
The Lady Tigers jumped from No. 56 to No. 41 in the NCAA’s official RPI, part of the formula used by the selection committee for selecting at-large teams and seeding the bracket. LSU even received 10 votes in this week’s Associated Press Top 25.
ESPN women’s basketball analyst Charlie Crème moved LSU from a No. 12 seed, often the lowest line for an at-large team, to a No. 8 seed in his latest “bracketology.” He spent an entire article on ESPN.com Monday explaining why Notre Dame, a projected No. 1 seed but not one of the 16 pre-selected host sites, may wind up at LSU, setting up a potential second-round matchup with the upset-minded Lady Tigers.
All the accolades and attention are sweet music to the ears of LSU coach Nikki Caldwell. But she also hears the discordant notes of a team that’s down to eight available scholarship players, two of whom emerged battered from the Kentucky upset.
“We’re going to be as light as we can be in practice and go hard in our games with these nagging injuries,” she said.
Junior guard Jeanne Kenney played through the grief of losing her maternal grandfather, Cliff Beaulieu, last week and the pain of a stress reaction in her left foot to come off the bench for a career-high 22 points against UK. She was 7-of-8 from the field in 26 minutes, including 5-of-5 from the 3-point line.
LSU starting forward Shanece McKinney had to be helped from the court after a frightening fall with 4:42 left to play. McKinney was taken to the locker room but later returned to the bench with what turned out to be just badly bruised knees.
Caldwell said she expects Kenney and McKinney to play Thursday when LSU wraps up its regular-season home schedule against Alabama (12-15, 2-12) at 7 p.m., but she said she will have to monitor Kenney’s minutes.
LSU plays Sunday at Texas A&M (21-7, 11-3), then opens SEC tournament play March 7 in Duluth, Ga., where it will be the No. 6 or No. 7 seed.
Sophomore forward Shelia Boykin is resting at her Baton Rouge home after being hospitalized last week following her diagnosis with Guillain-Barré syndrome, sidelining her for the rest of the season.
Guillain-Barré is a condition in which the body’s immune system attacks the nervous system.
LSU team spokesman Bill Martin said arrangements are being made to help Boykin complete her academic requirements.
Boykin played in 25 games with five starts, averaging 1.8 points and 2.3 rebounds.
“I visited with her (Monday), and she’s in high spirits,” Caldwell said. “But this disease takes time, and it’s going to take a lot of her being tough. But she has toughness in her. We’re making sure we do everything we can to lend her support.”
LSU suspended freshman guard Kuaneshia “Coco” Baker for the rest of the season, Martin said.
The former Helen Cox standout played in just 13 games because of what Martin said were repeated violations of unspecified team rules. Baker averaged 2.2 points and 1.5 rebounds per game.
Martin said it is possible Baker could return next season.