Theresa Plaisance carried the basketball, the one she cradled moments earlier for her 500th career rebound, all the way to the podium Thursday night for her postgame interview.
It was as though after all her success in the past two seasons — the meteoric rise in her game from benchwarmer to Southeastern Conference leading scorer last year and All-America candidate this year — the LSU senior needed some tangible evidence for herself that this was actually happening.
“I never thought I’d get to this moment,” said Plaisance, who became just the 18th LSU player ever to record 1,000 career points and 500 rebounds during her team’s 71-60 win over pesky Auburn in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
“My first year was nonexistent. I never saw the court. My only wish was to get on the court. But I made it through and luckily I have great teammates who got me the ball and had trust and confidence in me to score. I have great teammates who box out, and all I have to do is clean up the boards.”
Now the member of a club that includes LSU luminaries such as Seimone Augustus, Joyce Walker, Sylvia Fowles and Plaisance’s former teammate, LaSondra Barrett, Plaisance led the charge back from an icy first half for LSU and a one-point deficit at halftime to finish with her 12th career double-double: 19 points and 11 rebounds.
The New Orleans native and former high school All-American at Vandebilt Catholic now has 1,041 career points and 505 rebounds.
“I’m shocked to be in such a small category of people who came through here,” Plaisance said. “I’m blown away by it.”
“Theresa has grown tremendously,” coach Nikki Caldwell said. “Each year she’s improved. She’s a very skilled offensive player and, when she wants to be that presence on the defensive end, she can do that. It says a lot that she got 10 rebounds on the defensive end. That’s the player we need to step up on both ends of the floor.”
No. 14 LSU improved to 15-4 overall and 4-2 in Southeastern Conference play, remaining two games back of Texas A&M (16-4, 6-0). Auburn, whose four SEC losses have come to ranked teams, slipped to 11-8 and 2-4.
There was a point in the first half when it looked like Plaisance’s milestone might be dragged down by the millstone of an upset loss. The winter storm advisory that went into effect shortly before tipoff Thursday night was also in effect inside the PMAC.
LSU’s shooting hovered below the freezing mark (less than 32 percent) most of the first half before thawing to 38.2 percent by halftime. LSU was outscored in the paint 18-12 and outrebounded 24-17 but managed to never trail by more than four points before going into the locker room down just 36-35.
LSU quickly asserted itself to start the second half. A fast-break basket by freshman guard Raigyne Moncrief gave LSU the lead 29 seconds in, one the Lady Tigers would not relinquish.
“It definitely is a game of adjustments,” Caldwell said. “It was really about coming in and asking the team, ‘Who wants this stop?’ — challenging them to guard (Auburn’s Brandy) Montgomery. Raigyne was the first player to respond. She did a really nice job, and that set the tone for us.”
A freshman guard, Montgomery finished with a game-high 22 points but had just nine in the final 20 minutes.
Auburn tied the score at 41 on a free throw by Cabriana Capers at 15:37. But LSU responded with a 9-0 run, capped by a 3-pointer from reserve guard DaShawn Harden, eventually expanding its lead to as wide as 15 points.
Meanwhile, Auburn faced a war of attrition it was doomed to lose.
Tyrese Tanner, who came into the game as the SEC’s third-leading scorer at 17.1 points, was never a factor. The senior fouled out with 8:19 remaining, having scored a season-low six points. She soon was followed to the bench by her sister, sophomore Tra’Cee Tanner, who had eight points and eight rebounds.
“Our best kids went to the bench with foul trouble,” Auburn coach Terri Williams-Flournoy said. “It’s hard. We can’t play when our best kids can’t be in the game.”
Moncrief added 15 points for LSU. Jeanne Kenney had 12 and Shanece McKinney 11 despite briefly leaving the game in the second half after taking a blow to the face.
LSU visits Ole Miss at 7 p.m. Sunday.