LSU Lady Tigers face McNeese looking to continue nonconference momentum

With the New Year around the corner, the LSU women’s basketball team will soon enough dive into Southeastern Conference play.

Coach Nikki Caldwell said it’s important the Lady Tigers, who Wednesday matched a season’s best with their third straight win, continue on the winning track as they close December with their final three games of the nonconference campaign.

Not only because Caldwell wants LSU to have some momentum going into the SEC season, but also because she said it could ultimately help land the Lady Tigers in the NCAA tournament.

“I do think the (NCAA Selection) Committee looks at your body of work prior to conference play, and we need to finish out strong,” she said. “We know every game will matter.”

The Lady Tigers (7-3) will have that in mind when they face McNeese State (4-4) on Friday at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. Tip-off is set for 2 p.m.

The game against McNeese, which has emerged as a Southland Conference power in recent years, ends a season-long six-game homestand. LSU hits the road to face Florida Gulf Coast a week from Friday before returning to play UNO at the PMAC on New Year’s Eve.

The conference opener is at home Jan. 3 against Ole Miss.

“It’s just real important to finish up strong,” forward Theresa Plaisance said, “because the SEC is one of the toughest conferences in the country. We just need to play our game and get ourselves right. We’re kind of struggling defensively.”

Lapses on defense helped keep Grambling nipping at LSU’s heels for most of the first half Wednesday as the Tigers from north Louisiana started 7 of 13 from 3-point range. Caldwell made a defensive adjustment, going with a five-guard lineup to attack Grambling’s perimeter offense.

Using a 15-0 run late in the first half to distance themselves, the Lady Tigers eventually pulled away for a 90-59 win.

A highlight of the second half came when senior guard Adrienne Webb, en route to a 19-point performance, became the 30th player in program history to reach 1,000 career points.

“I didn’t realize it until everyone started clapping during the timeout,” Webb said. “I really wasn’t paying attention.”

Webb wasn’t the only Lady Tiger to reach a milestone in the win. Point guard Danielle Ballard, who led all scorers with 21 points, matched the LSU freshman record for steals in a game with seven.

“Danielle sets the tone for the entire team, especially on the defensive end,” Plaisance said. “She’s just really scrappy and she’s just really good at reading the passer’s eyes or maybe getting a hand in the dribbler’s area, which makes her so good at getting steals.”

A quick two-day turnaround gives LSU little time to focus its attention on a McNeese State team coming off back-to-back Southland tournament titles and NCAA tournament berths.

The Cowgirls have a .500 record, but their losses include an 82-71 setback at Vanderbilt, a 68-59 defeat at Southern Miss in overtime and a 52-50 heartbreaker against Louisiana Tech in Ruston. They beat Houston 76-72 last month at home.

Five-foot-6 twins Ashlyn and Caitlyn Baggett each average 15.9 points to lead McNeese. Both players earned All-Southland honors last season.