The story of Nikki Caldwell’s quick glance is sure to settle somewhere in well-worn lore.
The one in which, in the middle of upsetting No. 3 seed Penn State in the second round of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament, Caldwell almost ran out of bodies to put on the floor for LSU.
“I looked over there and had more assistant coaches and support staff than I did players,” Caldwell said Tuesday during a fan luncheon at L’Auberge Casino and Hotel.
Injuries, illness and disciplinary actions whittled Caldwell’s roster to seven players by March, a knot of players that still managed to pull of a surprising Sweet 16 run as a No. 11 seed.
On the cusp of her third season, Caldwell doesn’t have quite the same problem when Tigers open the season Nov. 8 against Stephen F. Austin in the preseason Women’s NIT.
All right, so her current roster of 11, which includes three freshman and a junior-college All-American, isn’t quite optimal, either.
Quibbling isn’t something Caldwell is prone to do.
“We’re not as deep as we’d like to be,” Caldwell said. “When we look at what we were able to do last year, take the team with seven active players to the Sweet 16, that’s pretty impressive.”
No reinforcement brings in better credentials than freshman guard Raigyne Moncrief, a 5-foot-10 guard rated as the No. 18 prospect in the nation by ESPN.
The No. 6 guard prospect in the country averaged 24 points and nine rebounds as a senior, with Caldwell adding that Moncrief is “one of the most gifted athletes we’ve ever coached.”
On a two-week preseason tour through Spain, Moncrief cemented a spot in the Tigers’ starting rotation, which should include returning veterans in guards Jeanne Kenney and Danielle Ballard.
It also returns the Southeastrn Conference’s leading scorer in forward Theresa Plaisance, who is on the preseason watchlist for Wade Trophy, given to the NCAA player of the year.
“She’s competing and keeping everybody in check,” Caldwell said of Moncrief’s approach in practice. “She’s not giving up her starting position.”
Blended with fellow freshman guards Rina Hill and Jasmine Rhodes, the Tigers’ should have enough depth on the perimeter to play their brand of match-up zone.
“That allows us to push the basketball,” Caldwell said. “But we’re still going to try to delay and disrupt people out of that.”
Meanwhile, DaShawn Harden, a transfer from Johnson County Community College, should bolster depth.
Harden originally started out at Oklahoma, where she averaged just 3.5 points in 13.3 minutes before transferring. Last season, she averaged 14.3 points and 4.1 rebounds before signing with LSU in April.
If the frontcourt rotation seems set with Plaisance along with Shanece McKinney and Derreyal Youngblood, sorting out minutes in the backcourt could loom as the biggest task ahead.
“The most important message that we’re continuing to teach is to control the things you can control and go out everyday and really put your effort into getting better. That’s what they’ve been doing. And when the time comes, to name our starting five.”