Lady Tigers’ fast start KOs Mizzou 75-58

Advocate staff photo by HEATHER MCCLELLAND --  LSU's Raigyne Moncrief earns a foul as she struggles for the ball against Missouri on Thursday in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by HEATHER MCCLELLAND -- LSU's Raigyne Moncrief earns a foul as she struggles for the ball against Missouri on Thursday in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

Jeanne Kenney elevated as much as her 5-foot-8 frame would allow and with two hands swatted a pass into the Missouri bench, landing in a crouch like Spiderman on top of a skyscraper.

Theresa Plaisance, Kenney’s LSU teammate and friend, went over and whispered something in her ear that made both of them smile.

“That’s the highest I’ve seen you jump,” Plaisance said.

Kenney isn’t the most physically gifted Lady Tiger. That distinction would belong to freshman guard Raigyne Moncrief. She isn’t the tallest. That rare air belongs to the 6-5 Plaisance.

But when Kenney is on her game the Baton Rouge-born senior from St. Michael The Archangel is the emotionally charged glue that forges the diverse pieces of this LSU team into something greater than its individual players can be on their own.

That’s the kind of play she gave to her team Thursday night in a rollicking 75-58 victory over Missouri at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

Kenney, who finished with 19 points to Plaisance’s team-high 20, played with passion, energy, and the determination to keep her team in front at halftime for once when Plaisance, Moncrief and Shanece McKinney were welded to the LSU bench with two first-half fouls apiece.

“She played like a senior who wasn’t going to let her team lose,” LSU coach Nikki Caldwell said. “And she had that one ‘athletic’ play, but she did a lot of nice things for us in the half court and taking care of the basketball.

“When you have that type of composure with your guard play it makes things a lot smoother.”

The No. 16-ranked Lady Tigers rebounded from Sunday’s 63-56 loss at Kentucky to improve to 18-5 overall and 7-3 in Southeastern Conference play.

With six regular season games remaining, LSU stayed two back of SEC-leading South Carolina and moved a half-game in front of idle Vanderbilt into sole possession of fourth place.

Her three fellow starters benched by fouls, Kenney bombed away with a trio of 3-pointers to keep Missouri at bay and send LSU to the halftime locker room up 38-31.

It was LSU’s first halftime lead in six games. The last time the Lady Tigers led at intermission was 42-40 at Missouri on Jan. 16.

LSU won that game going away 87-68, led by Kenney’s career-high 30 points. She now has 49 in two games against Mizzou, which fell to 14-9 and 3-7 in SEC play.

“I wish we’d play Missouri every time,” Kenney said.

Missouri coach Robin Pingeton probably would not, especially if it meant Kenney would face her team again.

Not that the Mizzou coach didn’t leave the PMAC an admirer of Kenney once again.

“She plays with so much emotion and passion,” Pingeton said. “She has a high basketball IQ, a great shot, a lot of intangibles. I love the poise she plays with. She played like a first-team All-SEC player.”

Its starting lineup renewed to open the second half, LSU opened up a 20-point lead on Missouri with a 14-0 run, 60-40, on a three-point trip by Moncrief with 10:09 remaining.

Missouri, which came in averaging an SEC-leading 8.6 made 3-pointers per game, shot its way back within eight of LSU with a 12-0 run of its own. A banked 17-foot jumper by Jordan Frericks with 6:36 left made it a 60-52 game.

Kenney and Plaisance soon teamed up to put out the fire. Kenney dribbled up court and skipped an entry pass to Plaisance on the right low post. Plaisance then swooped around her defender to the basket to put LSU back up 10, 62-52, with 5:52 left.

“In the first half our aggressive play started with Danielle (Ballard) and Ray (Moncrief), and getting Theresa involved really opened up the outside,” Kenney said. “When you have an inside-outside game, you’re golden.

“We had that inside-outside play.”

LSU would lead by double-digits the rest of the way, mostly on the strength of its free-throw shooting.

LSU made its first 18 free throws and finished 19 of 20 at the line, one off the school record of 20-for-20 set in 1988 against Tennessee.

Moncrief finished with 15 points before fouling out with a 1:25 remaining. Missouri’s Bri Kulas led all scorers with 23.

points.

The game was Missouri’s first at LSU since joining the SEC and first overall in Baton Rouge since 1988.

LSU returns to action Sunday at Texas A&M, a 52-48 winner over the Lady Tigers at the PMAC on Jan. 9. LSU then has a week off before hosting South Carolina on Feb. 16.