Lady Tigers remain upbeat despite loss

DULUTH, Ga. — There was a look of resigned rejection on the LSU Lady Tigers bench Friday as the score mounted against them during the second half of their Southeastern Conference women’s basketball tournament loss to Georgia.

Of course, it was only a small look of disappointment. For one reason, there were only two LSU players on the bench at a time by that point, as a head injury to center Shanece McKinney had reduced the Lady Tigers’ available list of players to seven.

For another, there was the knowledge that no matter how unpleasant their 71-53 loss to Georgia was, it wasn’t the end of their remarkable story.

Far from it.

No. 22-ranked LSU (20-11) will return home to heal, recharge and await what is an all-but-certain at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. A bid that will have LSU playing at home in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, which will host first- and second-round NCAA games March 24 and 26.

Maybe by then, the Lady Tigers will be able to recapture some of the magic that saw them go from being off the NCAA bubble to being a team that three other teams won’t be happy to see as their host come March 18, Selection Monday.

“I don’t want this group to allow this game to basically define who we are,” LSU coach Nikki Caldwell said. “We are a team that has the ability to play with and beat some of the best teams in the country.

“Georgia had our number tonight, but this is not our best performance by any stretch. We have to get back to how we got to this point in the first place.”

The loss was LSU’s worst SEC tournament defeat since a 106-86 loss to Alabama in 1993.

Getting back to what allowed LSU to piece together what was an SEC-best seven-game winning streak, including Thursday’s 65-62 win over Auburn, included a healthy McKinney.

McKinney fell to the court and hit her head with 6:25 left in the first half. She was able to walk off, but team spokesman Bill Martin said McKinney began vomiting when she returned to the LSU bench. McKinney didn’t leave the locker room during the second half.

Martin said McKinney was able to return to Baton Rouge with the rest of the Lady Tigers and is expected to be able to play in the NCAA tournament.

That LSU is in line to make what would be the 22nd NCAA appearance in program history will likely stand as one of the Lady Tigers’ most impressive accomplishments since their most-recent trip to the Women’s Final Four in 2008.

Just 13-10 and 4-6 in SEC play a month ago after back-to-back losses to Texas A&M and Tennessee, LSU reeled off its longest winning streak since winning 10 in a row midway through last season with victories over the likes of then-No. 9 Georgia, No. 8 Kentucky and No. 13 A&M. And this despite losing two players during that run — sophomore forward Sheila Boykin to Guillain-BarrĂ© syndrome and freshman guard Coco Baker (season-ending suspension) — to trim their roster to eight.

The remaining LSU players started using the phrase “Eight is enough” as their rallying cry. Though seven wasn’t enough against Georgia on Friday, there was still reason for optimism from Lady Tigers like senior guard Adrienne Webb.

“You can only go up from here,” said Webb, who led LSU with 16 points. “You can take this loss as a negative or as a positive that we can get better over the next two weeks before the NCAA tournament.”