As mid-December, non-conference games go, Thursday’s contest with East Tennessee State looms as a big one for the LSU Lady Tigers.
LSU dropped to 4-3 Sunday with a frustrating 66-64 overtime loss to Tulane, its second two-point loss of the season. Reigniting momentum in a busy pre-Christmas run of four home games in the next eight days is critical for coach Nikki Caldwell’s team.
“There’s work to be done between now and Christmas,” Caldwell said. “Two of our three losses have been by one basket. We have to understand how to closeout games. We have to get defensive stops and several in a row.”
And rebounds. The Lady Tigers definitely have to get more rebounds. LSU is languishing with a minus-3.7 rebounding deficit that wasn’t helped by getting outboarded 53-46 by Tulane.
Junior forward Theresa Plaisance leads the Southeastern Conference in scoring with 18.7 points per game, blocks with 3.1 per game and is third in rebounding with 9.0 per contest.
But Plaisance needs help. LSU’s second-leading rebounder is surprisingly 5-foot-9 freshman guard Danielle Ballard with 5.6 per game.
LSU has gone with a four-guard starting lineup in recent games, but Caldwell said she is switching to a more traditional two-post starting five for this game. Who joins Plaisance in the starting five and which guard goes to the bench will likely be a game-time announcement.
“We went with the guard lineup but we’re getting hammered on the offensive glass,” Caldwell said. “That’s a concern, even though that’s a very potent (four guard) lineup.”
Heightening Caldwell’s sense of urgency is ETSU’s plus-9 rebounding margin and the fact it took LSU to the absolute limit last season.
LSU fought off 10 made 3-pointers to rally from a nine-point halftime deficit to win 71-68 in overtime at East Tennessee State last season.
“I don’t feel as if they will look at us and be scared,” Caldwell said of ETSU (2-2). “I think they will come in with a lot of confidence and will try to beat us.
“Everyone knows what our challenges are. Having played us so tightly last year, I think that’s their mentality.”
ETSU is led by 5-11 guard/forward Destiny Mitchell with 17.5 points and 8.0 rebounds per game. Brianna Bogard, a 5-7 guard, averages 10.3 points per contest.
LSU will likely get a lift from freshman guard Coco Baker of New Orleans Helen Cox.
Baker will be making her official Lady Tigers’ debut after spending the first seven games suspended indefinitely for violating unspecified team rules. Baker’s only action to date was in LSU’s second exhibition game against North Alabama.
“She’s back at practice, working hard and we’re going to integrate her back into the team,” said Caldwell, though she stopped short of guaranteeing that Baker will play.
Fans who bring a canned food item to Thursday’s game can purchase a specially discounted ticket for $2. All collected can goods will go the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank. … Plaisance is the first LSU player with four 20-point games in her first seven contests since Seimone Augustus in 2005. ... The game will be televised on CST, with Lyn Rollins and Victor Howell on the call. The game will also be broadcast locally on 107.3 FM. … Caldwell will make her second attempt at her 100th career win. She is 99-40 overall, 27-14 at LSU and 72-26 at UCLA.