Lady Tigers roll past Florida Gulf Coast

The LSU Lady Tigers decided they were going to give something to Florida Gulf Coast, but they were also going to take.

“We knew they were either a 3-point shooting team or they were making layups,” senior guard Jeanne Kenney said Tuesday night. “There was no midrange with them. We had to take away one or the other, so we took away the paint.”

Florida Gulf Coast made 12 of 36 3-point attempts, the most makes from beyond the arc by an LSU opponent and tying Hampton on Nov. 20 for the most attempts.

But from two-point range the Eagles were only 5-of-14. That along with rare visits to the free throw line (where FGCU was 0-for-4) meant LSU’s visitors weren’t going to be able to inflict enough damage from outside to do the Lady Tigers any meaningful harm.

The result was an ultimately easy-looking 69-46 victory before a crowd of 2,190 fans at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

The win was LSU’s seventh straight, pushing the No. 12-ranked Lady Tigers’ record to 9-1 overall. FGCU, which beat LSU 76-70 on its home court last season, fell to 5-4.

The game marked a return to action for sophomore guard Danielle Ballard, her first court time this month. She last played Nov. 30 when LSU beat Michigan in New York for the Barclays Center Invitational title.

Ballard sat out LSU’s last two games serving a suspension for unspecified rules violations. She returned to score four points and pull down eight rebounds in just 22 minutes of court time.

Ballard made her presence felt defensively, picking the ball from FGCU’s Whitney Knight near midcourt to drive for an uncontested layup with 10:23 left for a 49-32 LSU lead. On the Eagles’ next possession, Ballard got a steal off Stephanie Haas in front of the FGCU bench that led to a pair of free throws by Raigyne Moncrief and a 51-32 LSU lead with 9:55 left.

“Her rebounds, her defensive pressure,” said Moncrief, the freshman who again led LSU with 11 points in 21 minutes, “her drives and her jump shots. We really need Danielle.”

LSU coach Nikki Caldwell sounded satisfied that Ballard was ready to be back in the rotation.

“It’s all about growing up and accepting responsibilities,” Caldwell said.

“There are always rules you have to abide by.”

Both teams started sluggishly with LSU scraping out an 8-0 led with 14:15 left in the first half on a putback basket by Theresa Plaisance. FGCU started off cold missing its first six shots, all from 3-point range.

Florida Gulf Coast came back with eight straight points of its own to force the game’s only tie with 9:57 left on a drive by Stephanie Hass. But DaShawn Harden put LSU back up for good 10-8 on a drive down the left baseline at the 9:20 mark, a lead the Lady Tigers extended to 35-16 by halftime.

In the second half Caldwell continued weaving her 10 available players (sophomore center Derreyal Youngblood was again sidelined by illness) in and out of the game.

None of Lady Tigers played more than 29 minutes, led by freshman guard Rina Hill. In LSU’s last four games only two players have logged 30 minutes or more: Moncrief with 30 minutes Dec. 3 against Indiana State and Kenney with 32 minutes Sunday at Arkansas-Little Rock.

“Different players have to step up at different times,” Caldwell said. “The play from our bench allowed us to extend our lead. Everyone played a part for us.

“The versatility of our team makes us hard to guard.”

Florida Gulf Coast’s Sarah Hansen led all players with 15 points on 6 of 7 shooting, including 3 of 3 from 3-point range. LSU was just 2 of 10 beyond the arc but made FGCU pay at the free throw line where the Lady Tigers were 21 of 25.

LSU hits the road again Friday for a 6 p.m. game at North Carolina State.