Strong finish lands Lady Tigers in Sweet 16

The LSU Lady Tigers reached the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16 last year with the Magnificent Seven in a dramatic upset of Penn State.

Midway through the first half of Tuesday’s NCAA second-round game against West Virginia, the Lady Tigers were reduced to eight — and somehow it again was enough.

An injury to guard Jeanne Kenney and foul trouble for fellow seniors Theresa Plaisance and Shanece McKinney wasn’t enough to keep LSU from pulling another dramatic upset, toppling West Virginia 76-67 in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

“We did it again,” said sophomore guard Danielle Ballard, who led LSU with 22 points and 15 rebounds, both game highs.

LSU, the No. 7 seed in the Louisville regional, improved to 21-12 and advanced to play Louisville on the Cardinals’ home floor at 1:30 p.m. Sunday (ESPN2). It’s LSU’s 14th Sweet 16 appearance.

No. 3 seed Louisville (31-4) routed Iowa 83-53 in Iowa City to advance.

No. 2 West Virginia finished 30-5, falling short of its first Sweet 16 trip since 1992.

“This was one of the hardest-fought games between two very good teams,” LSU coach Nikki Caldwell said. “A lot of credit to West Virginia for really pushing the envelope and pushing us to our limits.”

As was the case Sunday in their 98-78 first-round victory over Georgia Tech, the Lady Tigers bolted to a quick lead on West Virginia.

LSU scored the first four points on a pair of free throws by Ballard and a jumper by DaShawn Harden, then later went up 10-3 at the 16:14 mark on a long jumper by Kenney.

But West Virginia started whittling into the LSU lead, pulling within 22-19 at 7:57 on a fast-break basket by Christal Caldwell.

At the next media timeout with 7:38 remaining, Kenney left the LSU bench holding the bridge of her nose in obvious discomfort. She spent the rest of the first half in the locker room and didn’t return for the second half.

LSU trainer Micki Collins told the Associated Press that Kenney suffered a concussion. Caldwell said Kenney’s status for Sunday’s game is unknown but added the team would be cautious with her moving forward.

Kenney’s injury left LSU with only eight players, one more than it had in a second-round upset win over Penn State in this round last year. Freshman guard Raigyne Moncrief was out with a knee injury suffered in the Georgia Tech game, and sophomore center Derreyal Youngblood was suspended. Caldwell said after Tuesday’s game that Moncrief is out for the rest of the tournament.

LSU trailed for the first time in the tournament with 5:49 left on a 3-pointer by Caldwell at 5:49. The Mountaineers went up by as many as four, but a driving basket by Ballard with 3 seconds left before halftime gave the Lady Tigers a 37-35 lead at the break.

LSU came out quickly to start the second half and took its biggest lead at 44-35 thanks to a pair of baskets by Ballard sandwiched around a 3-pointer from Harden, the Lady Tigers’ first of the game. But the good start was tempered by the third fouls on Theresa Plaisance and Shanece McKinney, LSU’s starting post players.

By the 12:04 mark, both were on the bench with four fouls apiece as West Virginia regained the lead on a pair of free throws by Aysa Bussie.

With them on the bench, West Virginia went on an 8-0 run to take its biggest lead, 57-50, on a pair of free throws by Bussie at 9:57.

By the 6:40 mark, Plaisance and McKinney were back in the game, and the Lady Tigers managed to claw their way back. A follow by McKinney of a Plaisance miss cut the West Virginia lead to 65-64 with 2:42 left.

LSU then pulled away, going 8-for-8 at the line down the stretch as part of a closing 20-4 run.

“We were just staying together,” Ballard said. “We didn’t get discouraged. We kept playing hard. We tried to have energy. Our backs were to the wall, and in the huddle we were saying positive things to get us going.”

Ballard has 46 points and 32 rebounds in LSU’s two NCAA games. McKinney added 13 points, Harden 12 and Jasmine Rhodes 11 off the bench.

Bussie led West Virginia with 21 points.

“We got the lead, and we quit going inside,” West Virginia coach Mike Carey said. “We had a special year, we won 30 games, but we felt we gave one away here today.”

Louisville beat LSU 88-67 in Louisville earlier this season.