Rabalais: Lady Tigers facing one final stand

Advocate staff photo by CATHERINE THRELKELD -- Tennessee's Andraya Carter, left, and LSU's Jeanne Kenney reach for the ball during the game between LSU and Tennessee on Thursday at Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge. Tennessee defeated LSU in their final regular season home game, 72-67. The Lady Tigers have lost six straight heading into the Southeastern Conference tournament. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by CATHERINE THRELKELD -- Tennessee's Andraya Carter, left, and LSU's Jeanne Kenney reach for the ball during the game between LSU and Tennessee on Thursday at Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge. Tennessee defeated LSU in their final regular season home game, 72-67. The Lady Tigers have lost six straight heading into the Southeastern Conference tournament.

Your back’s to the wall.

It’s a cliché, that’s true, a hackneyed old chestnut, but an often apt one. It inspires images of both desperation and determination.

The LSU women’s basketball team embodies both.

Six straight losses have pushed this once-highly regarded team to the brink of being the biggest flameout in program history.

LSU goes into this week’s Southeastern Conference tournament as the No. 10 seed, its lowest seeding since 1995. If the Lady Tigers lose one more game, it will be the first time this program — the program of Seimone Augustus and Sylvia Fowles and Joyce Walker and Temeka Johnson and Marie Ferdinand — would have lost seven games in a row.

Is this the moment when this LSU team makes a stand, pushes off that wall and starts to fight back?

There was little evidence of it in their last game, which happened to have the same opponent as their next game.

LSU went to Alabama on Sunday, three days after fighting back from a 21-point halftime deficit to tie Tennessee late, and clearly had nothing left in the tank. The Lady Tigers lost 78-60, dropping to 18-11 overall and 7-9 in SEC play, their first losing conference record since 1995-96.

LSU still has a lofty No. 12 RPI that doesn’t jive with their recent record, a number inflated by the fact the Lady Tigers possess the nation’s No. 1 strength of schedule. It has been a meat grinder.

Still, LSU could be careening close to NCAA tournament bubble territory. ESPN women’s bracketologist Charlie Crème on Monday pegged the Lady Tigers as a No. 10 seed in the Stanford Regional, but for the first time writes LSU is entering a danger zone.

“The RPI and SOS are still high,” Crème says. “And four of those six losses were to (NCAA) tournament teams, but LSU is close to playing itself out of the field.”

Maybe, just maybe, that’s the jolt of reality these Lady Tigers need. Goodness knows, little else has worked lately.

“There’s nothing really left to say,” senior guard Jeanne Kenney said. “We’ve heard it all, we’ve said it all, we’ve heard it all. We just have to go out and do it.

“Assistant coach Tony (Perotti) said it best. He said there are some people who can care and try, and there are others who have the mindset of ‘over my dead body.’ That’s our mindset right now. Over my dead body that it’s going to be our last game.

“It’s not going to be our last game.”

But it could be if LSU loses again to Alabama on Thursday. So the Lady Tigers might as well embrace the desperate situation that is much of their own doing.

That’s Theresa Plaisance’s take on the situation anyway.

“I personally love playing with my back to the wall,” the senior forward said. “I love the pressure. You want to keep everyone on their toes and starving for that win.”

Starving? By the time LSU tips off Thursday against Bama, it will be exactly one month since the Lady Tigers last tasted victory in a 75-58 win over Missouri.

That’s not just starving, that’s a famine.

So if there is truly nothing left to say, then the Lady Tigers have little choice but to embrace their present reality, as Kenney did when a reporter stumbled over whether LSU’s SEC seed was really indeed as low as it is.

“Tenth” seed, Kenney said, cracking a smile. “Yep. Say it. It’s OK.

“There is a bit of underdog motto, but we know what we can do. It’s a matter of proving it. Our biggest opponent is ourselves. Once we get past that, we’ll be OK.”

Speculation about the Lady Tigers’ tailspin has become the most vibrant cottage industry in Tigertown since LSU got blown out by Bama in the 2012 BCS championship game. Somewhere, an LSU fan is still typing into a message board about that game, crying out, “There’s gotta be a reason!”

Whatever reasons may be behind the Lady Tigers’ troubles, Kenney denied it is because of a rift in the locker room.

“We like each other. There’s no tiff,” she said. “But frustration definitely builds upon any little thing that goes wrong — it’s magnified to the 10th degree. But the biggest part of losing is learning from it. You have to grow. You have to mature. At this point, if you can’t grow and mature and put it together, it’s not going to happen.”

At this point, if it’s not going to happen for LSU, there is maybe just one last do-over.

Maybe.