Nikki Caldwell’s team is 1-0 on the young season, but LSU’s second-year coach told her players emphatically at practice Wednesday that they won’t return from their pending four-game road trip unbeaten if they don’t live up to the following mantra:
Intensity is the visiting team’s energy bar on the road when the home squad can feed off its crowd. It’s intensity that Caldwell said her team didn’t have enough of Sunday as it battled through a 72-70 win at home over Wichita State.
“We’ve been working on the level of intensity we need to play at,” Caldwell said. “Credit to Wichita State for exploiting our lack of intensity for 40 minutes.”
It’s oh so early, but Caldwell views this road trip — games at Hampton on Friday and Georgetown on Monday, followed by two games in the Florida International Thanksgiving Classic next week — as important to her team’s NCAA tournament hopes in March.
“You’ve got to be a team that shows the selection committee you can win on the road,” Caldwell said.
Like LSU, both Hampton and Georgetown made the NCAA tournament last season — Hampton bowing in the first round to eventual Final Four participant Stanford, Georgetown losing in the second round to Georgia Tech.
Hampton is 2-0 this season, returning from a two-game tour of Mississippi with wins over Southern Miss (78-41) and Mississippi State (56-48). The Lady Pirates were picked to finish second in the MEAC preseason poll.
Hampton is led by 5-foot-11 senior guard Keiara Avant, who is averaging 22.5 points and 14.5 rebounds. Nichole Hamilton, a 5-8 junior guard, is averaging 15.5 points, and 6-6 sophomore center Verdine Warner averages 10 points and 12 rebounds.
LSU will go with its same starting lineup from the Wichita State game: 5-9 senior guard Adrienne Webb, 5-11 senior guard Bianca Lutley, 5-8 junior guard Jeanne Kinney, 6-5 junior forward Theresa Plaisance and 6-2 sophomore forward Sheila Boykin. Lutley had a career-high 19 points against Wichita State, followed by 17 from Webb and 13 from Kenney.
Boykin, who had four points and two rebounds in the opener, didn’t start either of the Lady Tigers’ two exhibition games. But Caldwell said she brings a presence that isn’t strictly measured in the box score.
“You don’t see a line of 20 and 12, but she does a lot of things that give us energy and hustle plays,” Caldwell said. “She will take a charge or grab a loose ball, just be in the right place at the right time. She has some scoring, and that’s something we need to get more out of her.”
A sweep of Hampton and Georgetown would give LSU 800 victories. Only three Southeastern Conference women’s programs have more than 800. ... The Lady Tigers are scheduled for a White House tour Saturday morning, but an audience with President Obama isn’t planned. “They don’t know we’re coming,” Caldwell said, “but if you can get word to him through the media, we’ll be there Saturday at 10:30.”