As she headed down a long corridor within the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, LSU women’s basketball coach Nikki Caldwell reflected on the challenge in front of her Lady Tigers on Tuesday night against Penn State.
“It’s March,” she said. “Anything can happen.”
That it can. They don’t call it March Madness for nothing.
Of course, the madness doesn’t imply that everything will turn out for the best.
Against as formidable a team as it has faced this season, LSU may have to try to advance to its first Sweet 16 appearance since its Final Four run in 2008 without its spark plug.
Oft-injured junior guard Jeanne Kenney was last seen being carried from the PMAC court Sunday night after a head-to-head collision with teammate Adrienne Webb with 44.1 seconds left in LSU’s NCAA tournament first-round win over Green Bay.
Whether Kenney would be able to pull a Willis Reed and limp onto the court Tuesday (8:45 p.m. on ESPN2) for her team’s second-round game was an unanswerable question Monday afternoon.
“She’s feeling a lot better,” said Caldwell, who did not say whether Kenney had suffered a concussion. “We’re waiting to find out more.
“They obviously want to be cautious on everything. They ran some tests (Sunday) night, and she passed some of those. She did some good things (Monday) morning. We definitely wouldn’t want to take any unnecessary measures to get her out there. If she’s out and they come back and say that she is, that’s what it is.”
Perhaps the last option is ask Kenney how she is feeling.
“She’s a competitor,” Caldwell said. “I’m not saying she’s a fibber, but she’s a competitor. At times I’ve told her, ‘You’re not going; you’re not practicing today.’ She would not pull herself.”
Whether LSU (21-11) can pull off its biggest win of the season even with what passes for a full complement of Lady Tigers — “Eight is enough” has been LSU’s battle cry over the past month as it closed with what is now an 8-1 run — is a big if.
Penn State (26-5) is coming off its second straight Big Ten regular-season title. Though the Lady Lions shot themselves out of the Big Ten tournament, hitting just 22 percent of their field-goal tries in a 54-46 loss to Michigan State, they rebounded strongly with an 85-55 first-round win Sunday over an outmanned Cal Poly team making its first NCAA appearance.
Kenney or no, Penn State coach Coquese Washington knows that advancing on the Lady Tigers’ home floor — LSU is 14-3 at the PMAC this season — won’t be easy.
Even if the Lady Lions know the way after dispatching the Lady Tigers there 90-80 in an NCAA second-round game last year.
“They have been a team that across the season, with integrating so many new players … it takes some time for you to kind of gel,” Washington said. “They started to figure it out the last seven, eight games of the season — who they are, what their identity is, how they need to play and what they can do well.
“I think now they are playing their best basketball of the season and playing with a high level of confidence. Playing on their home floor in this environment, that’s tough. That’s tough to play against.”
Led by Big Ten Player of the Year Maggie Lucas — who burned the PMAC nets for 30 points in last year’s game — and Frances Pomeroy Naismith winner Alex Bentley, the Lady Lions will try to push the Lady Tigers into an uncomfortably fast tempo.
LSU, led by the inside-outside duo of All-SEC forward Theresa Plaisance (her conference’s second-leading scorer at 17.3 points per game) and senior guard Adrienne Webb (14.2), the Lady Tigers will try to pick their spots to make transition baskets while otherwise forcing Penn State into more of a halfcourt game.
“We have a lot of versatility with Bianca (Lutley) being able to drive and dish out to Webb or whoever spots up on the outside,” Plaisance said. “And a great addition to this team is (freshman guard) Danielle Ballard. She brings a lot offensively and defensively.
“I think Danielle is going to do well against a team like Penn State.”
Whether or not Kenney plays, Lutley is likely to return to the starting lineup after coming off LSU’s sparsely populated bench Sunday.
The 5-foot-11 senior, LSU’s fourth-leading scorer at 10.2 points per game, probably will play small forward alongside Plaisance and 6-4 center Shanece McKinney.
Ballard, LSU’s single-season record holder with 95 steals, likely will start at point guard with Webb at the off spot.
Webb said the Lady Tigers aren’t fazed about maybe having to play yet another woman down yet again.
“We have been in adversity all year,” said the senior who, like Lutley, will play her final home game — win or lose. “Whether we have seven or eight playing or we have six, we still have to go out there and play our game.”
And hope that the madness of March favors the Lady Tigers this time.
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