Kenney’s 3-pointers lift Lady Tigers

Coming off a pre-holiday loss to North Carolina State that snapped a seven-game winning streak, the LSU women’s basketball team wasn’t faring much better in the early minutes against Jackson State.

Jeanne Kenney was having none of it. The senior guard heated up from behind the 3-point line, hitting a career-high six 3-pointers to lift LSU past Jackson State 72-45 Monday night in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

“It’s about knowing who has the hot hand and who needs touches,” Kenney said. “(Coach Nikki Caldwell) told the girls to find me tonight, and they did a good job. From there, it’s just shooting like always.”

Kenney finished with 22 points, tying her career high from Feb. 22, when she scored 22 against Kentucky.

This one didn’t have such Southeastern Conference implications, with LSU tuning up in a final pre-conference test before heading to No. 5 Tennessee on Thursday.

There was plenty of tuning to be done early, as the pesky visiting Lady Tigers played above their record in the first half.

“In our opinion, this was a ‘barely’ win,” Kenney said. “We can’t win this way in SEC play. Jackson State exposed our weaknesses.”

Five straight points from Ayanna Lynn put Jackson State up 18-16 at the 6:43 mark of the opening half.

Kenney made sure that was short-lived. She hit a 3-pointer on LSU’s next possession and threw a behind-the-back assist to Raigyne Moncrief to finish off a 7-0 LSU run.

Moncrief added 13 points and three rebounds in the freshman’s 12th consecutive start to open her career.

But a sloppy first half that featured an even rebounding line and a combined 28 turnovers kept LSU on edge.

Kenney hit her fourth 3-pointer as the buzzer sounded to send LSU into the locker room ahead 33-24.

Jackson State briefly drew within 35-30 before LSU went from tune-up mode to tuned in.

It was the defense that kicked in. A smothering press forced 27 Jackson State turnovers, with LSU scoring 33 points off those miscues.

The home squad’s superior length hassled the visitors when they did get it across half court, as they committed four shot-clock violations.

“Coach just let us know we needed to be more efficient, so we set the tone on defense first,” Moncrief said.

Such stingy defense set up the knockout blow.

The home squad peeled off a 21-2 run over the next 4:06, ending Jackson State’s upset hopes.

Unsurprisingly, Kenney was at the center of the decisive blitz. She made 3-pointers to start and finish the run while dishing out two of her four assists. No other LSU player made a 3-pointer in the game.

“Jeanne had a hot hand, so we had to give it to her,” Moncrief said. “Everything she brought, from the leadership to passing, was exactly what we needed tonight.”

Theresa Plaisance sparked a balanced rebounding effort, as she overcame a frustrating shooting night near the rim with six rebounds and 10 points.

With the game already in hand, Kenney, who has a history of concussions, fell hard to the floor while contesting a rebound and went to the locker room moments later.

“It was just a tailbone,” she said. “I can usually do a good job of falling, but I wasn’t expecting their small guard to have that much punch. So it’s a little sore.”

By then, the reserves were in, but LSU’s own turnover issues — it committed 21 — kept the final score from getting out of hand.

Those ball-handling issues are at the top of Caldwell’s list with the competition ramping up considerably come 2014.

“That’s just too many turnovers,” Caldwell said. “That’s something that needs cleaning up in a hurry. We’re almost out of time now.”