Rabalais: Injuries to Moncrief, Kenney big losses for Lady Tigers

Lady Tigers down to eight players after injuries to Moncrief, Kenney

The LSU Lady Tigers endured a month of struggles and disappointments coming into the NCAA tournament only to have their season redeemed by a pair of sweet wins that sent them back to the Sweet 16 and a date Sunday in the Louisville regional semifinals with the host Cardinals.

But the price the Lady Tigers paid for those two victories looks like it may be pretty steep.

Suddenly, their narrative looks like it’s being penned by Agatha Christie as some sort of sports-themed sequel to “Ten Little Indians.”

First, center Derreyal Youngblood was suspended going into the NCAA tournament, cutting LSU’s available roster from 11 to 10.

Then fast forward to early in the second half of LSU’s 98-78 first-round victory over Georgia Tech, when freshman guard Raigyne Moncrief went down with a tournament-ending left knee injury. That left the Lady Tigers with nine.

Then senior guard Jeanne Kenney left LSU’s 76-67 second-round upset of West Virginia with 7:38 left to play after suffering a concussion. She didn’t return, and according to a tweet from TigerBait.com on Wednesday night (there was no official confirmation from LSU), she will miss the rest of the tournament as well.

That leaves eight. Just as many as the Lady Tigers had when Kenney returned from her first-round concussion to face California in last year’s Spokane regional semifinals.

Last year’s LSU team was plagued by injuries and issues throughout. LSU started the 2012-13 season with only 10 players, and forward Sheila Boykin went out with Guillain-Barré Syndrome midway through the season, and guard Coco Baker was sent away for disciplinary reasons.

This year, LSU dodged the injury bug to this point, though Youngblood and NCAA tournament heroine Danielle Ballard both spent time on the suspended list.

Now it seems like some cosmic joke is in play, trying its best to sour the sweetest part of LSU’s season.

If Kenney is indeed done, it’s a sad end to the career of one of the toughest competitors the Lady Tigers, and LSU athletics at large, have ever had. The former St. Michael the Archangel star endured multiple concussions during her LSU career but still sacrificed her body to make plays, taking charges and in a recent game nearly sliding off the court as she dived to chase down a loose ball.

Kenney isn’t the most talented player LSU has, but her talent was making the players around her better. Now Ballard, who erupted for a combined 46 points and 32 rebounds in the Lady Tigers’ two NCAA tourney wins so far, will have to continue to play an outsized role. So will fellow guards DaShawn Harden, Jasmine Rhodes, Rina Hill and Anne Pedersen.

It was going to be a Mount Kilmanjairo-like climb for LSU to beat 32-4 Louisville on its home floor Sunday — the same floor in the amusingly named KFC Yum! Center where on Nov. 14 the Cardinals broke away from the Lady Tigers in a tight second half with a 21-0 run for an 88-67 victory. Louisville is only the No. 3 seed in its namesake regional, but it has the pedigree of a No. 1.

That means the climb facing LSU looks more like an assault on Everest if the Lady Tigers’ best Sherpa guide is permanently benched.

That said, how many people gave 21-12 LSU the chance to get this far after entering the tournament with losses in eight of its past 10 games? And who gave Louisville a chance to upset mighty Baylor and Brittany Griner in last year’s regional semifinals?

You could probably have counted those clairvoyants with your 10 fingers — or the number you’d need to count LSU’s available basketball players, with maybe a couple left over.

Lagniappe

The LSU-Louisville game will be televised on ESPN2 at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, though that time could easily get pushed back since it follows the other semifinal between Tennessee and Maryland. … The only lower seed than LSU to reach the Sweet 16 is No. 12 BYU, which takes on No. 1 Connecticut in the Lincoln Regional. DePaul, also a No. 7, faces No. 3 Texas A&M in Lincoln. … The SEC has five teams in the Sweet 16, most of any conference (LSU, A&M, Tennessee, South Carolina and Kentucky). The SEC is trying to get its first team to the Women’s Final Four since LSU and Tennessee in 2008. … Not surprisingly, LSU’s game with West Virginia bumped the Lady Tigers strength of schedule back to No. 1 again over Ohio State. It was No. 2 entering the tournament.