Rabalais: Lady Tigers manage despite chaos

The LSU Lady Tigers are disciples of their own brand of Chaos Theory.

Follow the bouncing basketball and rewind to this time a year ago …

LSU was getting ready to play a talented Penn State team in the second round of the NCAA tournament, much the same Penn State team that ran the Lady Tigers out of the Pete Maravich Assembly Center 90-80 in the second round in 2012.

LSU had just seven healthy players, but it’s “Magnificent Seven” were able to circle the wagons (a small circle) and hammer out a 71-66 upset of the Nittany Lions that ranks as one of the Lady Tigers’ most dramatic NCAA tourney victories ever. The win propelled LSU to its first Sweet 16 appearance since 2008.

Back to present day, and the Lady Tigers are back again, about to duel with another talented foe, this time No. 2-seeded West Virginia, for the right to return to the Sweet 16.

Now sports on TV is the ultimate reality show, but this LSU team has gone through so much drama the folks from A&E may offer the Lady Tigers their own time slot behind “Duck Dynasty.”

LSU started the regular season 17-4, finished 2-8 going into NCAA play, then dialed up its most complete performance of the season in Sunday’s 98-78 first-round victory over Georgia Tech.

The Lady Tigers won with an NCAA tournament school-record number of points despite giving up an NCAA tournament school record-tying 23 turnovers.

And despite being without talented freshman guard Raigyne Moncrief for all but eight minutes — she spent most of the first half on the bench with two fouls and most of the second half being checked out for a scary-looking but as yet incompletely evaluated knee injury.

And despite being without suspended sophomore center Derreyal Youngblood, who has sunk to the bottom of LSU’s stat sheet with a team-low 1.2 points per game while occupying a more and more prominent place in coach Nikki Caldwell’s doghouse.

How do the Lady Tigers survive, and give themselves a chance to thrive, despite all these theatrics, these distractions, this chaos?

“We’re women,” Caldwell said.

She said it. I didn’t.

“We adapt,” Caldwell said. “We have to. We have to adapt to you (the media) and men and everybody else.”

She said that too. What? Hey!

“But these young ladies, they’ve been through so many different things and challenges, this is just one more thing that they’re going to add to their college experience.”

Caldwell went on to evoke the name of the late, great LSU women’s coach, Sue Gunter, how it is her ambition to get the Lady Tigers program back to the level of national prominence it enjoyed under the beloved coach, and how “we’re trying to do things the way that she would approve.”

There are things that have gone on in this sorority house of a season with the Lady Tigers I’m sure would have made Gunter stamp her feet and cuss a Mississippi blue streak.

But winning is winning, and that’s what Gunter did better than all but a handful of coaches in the history of the women’s game. And if Caldwell can win, can get this traveling drama club of hers back to the Sweet 16 for the second straight year, then yes, Gunter would have given grudging approval, accompanied by a “Dammit, Nikki, they’ve got to take care of the ball!”

It remains to be written how this LSU women’s basketball season will end, whether it comes to a halt Tuesday night or continues to march on.

But no team perhaps is better in tune to the madness of March than these Lady Tigers. A team that handles chaos — both external and self-generated — with equanimity.

THE LATE, LATE SHOW: The LSU-West Virginia game tips off at 8:45 p.m. Tuesday, so a pre-emptive apology to those of you who won’t have the game in your Wednesday morning papers.

The NCAA and ESPN don’t care about newspaper deadlines, you see. Or about fans who have to get up for work the next morning. Or growing the game with young fans who will stay home instead of going to the Pete Maravich Assembly Center because they have school the next morning.

It’s a ridiculous time to start a game here. Even worse for West Virginia fans watching a game in the Eastern Time Zone that won’t tip until 9:45.

Texas A&M-James Madison starts at the same time in College Station, but a game between South Carolina and Oregon State in Seattle actually starts five minutes earlier at 6:40 p.m. Pacific time.

Games in the Central and Eastern time zones should start before 8 p.m., period. But it’s a plea sure not to resonate in Indianapolis and Bristol.