It could be a function of experience, or talent, or depth, or a combination of the three, but the LSU Lady Tigers are clearly a much-improved band of road warriors compared to last season.
LSU is 5-2 in road games after Thursday’s 87-68 win at Missouri, plus 2-0 in a tournament at the Barclays Center in New York. Last season, the Lady Tigers were just 5-7 on the road plus a 2-2 mark in neutral-site games.
“It has a lot to do with our non-conference schedule,” LSU coach Nikki Caldwell said. “We played Rutgers and Michigan at a neutral site, but the games at Louisville and N.C. State prepared us for the SEC.”
The Lady Tigers pulled off the biggest road win of Caldwell’s three-year tenure at LSU on Jan. 2 when they beat her alma mater Tennessee 80-77 in Knoxville. Road wins at Tulane and Mizzou followed.
Now the No. 14-ranked Lady Tigers face what in a way could be their biggest road challenge when they play Sunday at No. 24 Vanderbilt.
“They play very hard,” LSU senior guard Jeanne Kenney said. “They’re a bit undersized compared to our bigs, but they work hard. They make you earn every bucket.”
Tipoff is set for 1 p.m. at Vandy’s quirky Memorial Gymnasium between LSU (14-3, 3-1 Southeastern Conference) and the Commodores (15-3, 4-1). The game will be televised on Fox Sports Net, ESPN3.com and can be heard locally on WBRP-FM 107.3.
With a court that’s raised like a stage and benches located beyond the baselines instead of on the sideline, Memorial Gym is unlike any other venue in the SEC.
The distance from the bench to the opposite basket makes it important to have a seasoned vet helping run the show like Kenney.
“She can definitely set the tone,” Caldwell said.
Kenney said the Lady Tigers have been working on hand signals to help combat the fact that the noisy Nashville crowd can make voice instructions impossible to hear.
“We have to make sure our huddles are really tight and figure out what we need to do in those huddles,” Kenney said. “That set us apart (at Missouri).”
LSU overcome an early back injury that sidelined Kenney for part of the first half, foul trouble for fellow guard Danielle Ballard and a quick 10-point deficit to win going away at Missouri.
Kenney led the way, burning the nets for a career-high 30 points with six of LSU’s single-game school record 13 3-pointers.
Winning at Vandy is another matter. LSU hasn’t beaten the Commodores on their home court since a 79-68 decision on Jan. 23, 2005.
“Vanderbilt is by far the hardest place to play in the SEC,” Kenney said.
The Commodores may be vertically challenged in the frontcourt — forward Marqu’es Webb is Vandy’s tallest player at 6-foot-1 — but boast one of the best backcourts in the women’s game with 5-9 senior Christina Foggie and 5-4 senior Jasmine Lister.
Foggie is second in the SEC with 19.3 points per game, while Lister is sixth at 16.3.
“They are the Batman and Robin of their team,” Caldwell said.
“We have to be patient and maintain our inside-outside attack.”
LSU is led once again by 6-foot-5 senior forward Theresa Plaisance (13.7 points, 7.0 rebounds per game). Last week, Plaisance was the only SEC player named to the John Wooden Award midseason top 20 watch list.
LSU returns home to host Auburn at 7 p.m. Thursday. … In bracket projections before LSU’s win at Mizzou, ESPN bracketologist Charlie Creme tabbed the Lady Tigers as the No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament’s Lincoln (Neb.) regional. CollegeSportsMadness.com also had LSU as a No. 3 seed. … LSU’s NCAA RPI before the Missouri win was No. 5, best of any SEC team.