Lady Tigers fall to Alabama in finale, will open with Tide in SEC tourney

If the LSU Lady Tigers are to reverse the fortunes of their tailspinning regular season in the Southeastern Conference tournament, they’ll have to do it against the teams that set them spinning in the first place.

A lopsided 78-60 loss Sunday at Alabama to end the regular season set up a rematch Thursday between the Lady Tigers and Crimson Tide in the tournament’s second round.

The teams will meet at 5 p.m. CST at the Gwinnett Center in Duluth, Ga. The winner advances to meet No. 2 seed Tennessee in Friday’s quarterfinals.

LSU (18-11, 7-9) is the No. 10 seed. Alabama (14-15, 7-9) is the No. 7 seed.

The Lady Tigers and Crimson Tide ended up in a five-way tie for sixth place with Auburn, Vanderbilt and Georgia.

LSU was relegated to the No. 10 seed because of its combined record (1-3) against the other four teams. The Lady Tigers’ only win against that group was 71-60 over Auburn on Jan. 23.

It’s LSU’s lowest SEC tournament seeding since the Lady Tigers were No. 11 in 1995 and the first time LSU finished with a losing record in SEC play since 1995-96.

It’s a stunning slide for the Lady Tigers, considering how high they were flying in January.

The Lady Tigers entered February 17-4 overall and a game out of first place in the SEC at 6-2. But February began with a 63-56 loss at Kentucky, followed by a 75-58 win over Missouri that was LSU’s last victory to date.

Since then, the Lady Tigers have dropped six straight to Texas A&M, South Carolina, Georgia, Arkansas, Tennessee and Alabama. It’s LSU’s longest losing streak since the Lady Tigers also dropped six straight during the 1994-95 season.

LSU has never lost seven straight games in program history, perhaps a point of pride the reeling Lady Tigers can rally around.

Sunday’s loss was LSU’s most lopsided in SEC play and came on the heels of a stirring comeback Thursday from a 21-point halftime deficit to tie Tennessee with just over three minutes left before falling 72-67.

LSU trailed only 39-34 at halftime but fell behind 51-39 in the first six minutes of the second half as the Lady Tigers missed nine of their first 10 field goal attempts. LSU eventually fell behind by as many as 22 points.

Alabama set LSU single-game opponent records for free throws made (34) and attempted (50). The latter broke the record of 41 set by Alabama on Nov. 18, 1978. The Crimson Tide also broke a 16-game losing streak to LSU dating to the 2001-02 season.

Senior forward Theresa Plaisance, LSU’s leading scorer and rebounder, was one of the few bright lights for the Lady Tigers. She led the team with a game-high 26 points and nine rebounds and added nine blocks, tying an LSU single-game school record set by Cheri Graham on Dec. 2, 1982, against Nicholls State.

It was the 19th straight double figure scoring game for Plaisance. She was the only LSU player in double figures.

Shafontaye Myers led four Alabama players in double figures with 15 points.

LSU is 32-33 all-time in the SEC tournament, having won titles in 1991 and 2003. The Lady Tigers have lost in the final seven times.

The last time LSU and Alabama met in the SEC tournament was in 2011 in Nashville, Tenn. The Lady Tigers, then the No. 7 seed, beat No. 10 Alabama 60-36 in the first round.

Despite their late-season swoon, ESPN women’s bracketologist Charlie Crème said before Thursday’s LSU-Tennessee game that the Lady Tigers could almost certainly lose to the Lady Volunteers, Alabama and in the SEC tournament opener and still earn an NCAA at-large bid.

Crème cited LSU’s No. 1 strength of schedule and surprisingly high RPI (No. 9 entering last week) as factors keeping the Lady Tigers off the bubble.

Another consideration is that LSU will host first- and second-round NCAA tournament games March 23 and 25 at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

An automatic NCAA tournament bid awaits the SEC tournament winner Sunday. Before the Lady Tigers can start dreaming about that, they’ll first have to figure out how to avenge their latest and perhaps most discouraging loss.