Lady Tigers get fresh start in SEC tournament

DULUTH, Ga. — For a team in serious need of a do-over, opening the Southeastern Conference tournament against Alabama isn’t the freshest start the LSU Lady Tigers could make.

LSU finished the regular season in a steep dive, losing six in a row, the capper a 78-60 defeat Sunday at Alabama. In that game, the turnover, defensive and shooting woes that have plagued the Lady Tigers at various times this season seemed to converge, leaving LSU victimized by the collateral damage.

But there’s no getting to choose your opponent this time of year, especially when you’re LSU and you’re tagged with a No. 10 seed, the program’s lowest since it was No. 11 in 1995.

But the Lady Tigers aren’t making excuses. Instead, they’re confidently, perhaps even defiantly believing they can finish their season they way they want to do it: with some meaningful victories to cancel out some of the misery of a flattened February.

“I feel they definitely shouldn’t have beaten us the first time,” senior center Shanece McKinney said. “That gives us hope.

“We’ve made a pact that this won’t be our last 40 minutes on the court.”

It almost certainly won’t be, despite LSU’s long losing streak.

The Lady Tigers — 18-11 overall and 7-9 in SEC play for their first losing conference record since 1995-96 — still possess a lofty No. 12 RPI thanks to being the proud if wounded owners of the nation’s No. 1 strength of schedule.

But the fact that the Lady Tigers have dropped enough games — seven of eight overall since the calendar flipped to February — to have some worries about slip sliding away to NCAA tournament bubble land speaks volumes about how much this team’s season has come apart.

“We don’t want to assume anything,” McKinney said. “We’re in the hands of the committee. We want to be in the hand that’s sending teams to the tournament. We need to go to the SEC tournament and have a strong outcome.”

The Lady Tigers will try to do just that when they take on No. 7-seeded Alabama (14-15, 7-9 SEC) in a second-round game at 5 p.m. at the Gwinnett Center. The game will be shown on Fox Sports Net and WatchESPN.com and can be heard in Baton Rouge on WBRP-FM 107.3 and at LSUSports.net.

The winner advances to take on No. 2-seeded Tennessee at 5 p.m. Friday. The Lady Volunteers (24-5, 13-3) earned a double bye to the quarterfinal round.

Sunday’s SEC tournament survivor earns the championship trophy and an automatic bid to the NCAA field of 64. LSU will be trying to win its third SEC tourney title and first since 2003.

LSU coach Nikki Caldwell certainly doesn’t want to focus that far down the road. But she said her team has accomplished enough to show, despite all the recent losses, that they are capable of doing great things.

“They’ve shown they can get leads,” Caldwell said. “They can play on the road and win. They can come back from deficits. They’ve shown a lot. And they will get another opportunity in a very competitive tournament to show that.”

Alabama was able to hammer LSU into submission Sunday — and snap a 16-game losing streak to the Lady Tigers in the process — for two main reasons: One, 3-point shooting. The Crimson Tide was 8-of-15 behind the arc compared to 2-of-19 for LSU, which made one more field goal overall (19 to 18).

Two, the Crimson Tide’s ability to draw contact and get to the free-throw line. Alabama was 34-of-50 at the stripe, setting LSU opponent single-game records for free throws made and attempted.

“We have to do a better job of playing personnel defense: know their number, know their game,” said LSU forward Theresa Plaisance, who earned her second-straight first-team All-SEC honors Tuesday. Plaisance leads LSU in points (15.6) and rebounds (7.6) per game.

“We have to do a better job of boxing out, finishing in the paint. They’re easy fixes.

“We need to start doing some damage to the other team.”

And of course part of LSU’s overall approach is to forget about the bad things in the past. Senior guard Jeanne Kenney said the team reviewed video of the Alabama loss this week, and players saw where they were deficient Sunday.

“Film doesn’t lie,” she said.

But most of all, the Lady Tigers want to think back to the things that made them a 17-4 team going into February in the first place.

“We just have to remember what we were doing when we were successful,” said guard DaShawn Harden, who has started the past three games in place of injured freshman Raigyne Moncrief (knee). “I think everyone knows this could be our last game. It might be good that we lost that last game and turn around and play them again. It’s hard to beat a team twice in a row.

“We didn’t play our game. I think we’ll play our game this time. I truly believe that. Everyone thinks we’re 0-0 right now. Just take it one game at a time and win this one.”

Moncrief, who has been limited in her play the past two games, is expected to at least come off the bench and play a significant role, Caldwell said.