LSU edges past Ole Miss in SEC opener

Until Bianca Lutley locked her arms around the ball near the top of the arc, LSU’s perspective on an 84-79 victory Thursday against Ole Miss was fluid.

With two chances to pull away, the Lady Tigers could view their helter-skelter Southeastern Conference opener as a series of missed chances or a testament to grinding out a late game victory.

Tied 75-75 with five minutes left, LSU (10-4, 1-0 SEC) scrapped together enough stops against to limit Ole Miss to a lone bucket and secured the victory by scoring their final five points on trips to the foul line.

Milling about on the floor of the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, the Tigers deemed the victory a testament to slowing an open-throttle affair and getting stops late.

“We realized in one of the timeouts we can’t keep trading baskets,” LSU guard Adrienne Webb said. “Everyone committed to that when they got back out on the floor.”

Plugging in reserve forward Shenece McKinney alongside Theresa Plaisance, the Tigers looked in the lane down the stretch and shut off enough driving lanes to stymie Ole Miss.

The Rebels, who shot 44.6 percent from the floor, settled for 3-pointers on five of their final 10 possessions.

“We forced the issue just a little bit, and they saw what might have looked like a good opportunities,” Ole Miss interim coach Brett Frank said. “They probably pushed themselves just because of the nature of the game.”

Guard Gracie Frizzell, who scored a career-high 17 points and sank 5 of 7 behind the arc, hit the lone shot during the final stretch, a three-pointer from the left corner to cut the LSU lead to 80-79 before the Tigers salted the game away.

Yet, the Tigers assumed control earlier, when McKinney got a putback of a missed Webb 3-pointer for a 77-75 lead with 4:28 left to go.

And after enduring their own scoreless span, where they missed four shots, forward Bianca Lutley got a tip-in after out jumping Danielle McCray to make it 79-76 with 2:30 left.

“We needed to slow our offense down — actually run through it,” Webb said. “Look inside and get touches.”

Yet, the Tigers had chances to avoid the late game tension.

Guard Danielle Ballard, who had a game-high 24 points, pulled up in transition for a jumper after breaking pressure in the back court for a 29-19 lead at 8:52 in the first half and capping a 10-2 run over four minutes.

Undeterred, the Rebels replied with a 12-2 burst, a span over three minutes by 3-pointers from Tia Faleru, Amber Singletary and Valencia McFarland to pull even 31-31 with five minutes to go in the first half.

“We’re a team that every game is going to be a battle for us,” LSU coach Nikki Caldwell said.

“We’ve got a lot of weapons offensively. We’re definitely working toward figuring out our defensive identity, but we found a way to win.”

And Faleru, who scored 18 points on 8-of-17 shooting, gave the Rebels their first lead at 33-32 with a jumper on the left wing en route to a 40-39 lead at halftime.

“That’s an issue we’ve had to deal with all year,” Frank said of answering an opponent’s run.

“It’s given us a since of confidence we can come from behind, catch back up and give ourselves a chance later on in the game.”

The fortitude came in handy after LSU reeled off another 10-2 run early in the second half. Lutley book-ended the burst and capped it with a layup on an inbounds play for a 49-42 lead with 17:40 remaining in the game.

“We need to string more consistent runs together,” Webb said. “Not just when the game is getting tight or when it’s close to the end. It’s nice to have a cushion to fall back on, give ourselves a little more motivation looking for the jobs.”

Yet, the Rebels would whittle the lead down again, drawing within 56-54 on Courtney Marbra turnaround in the lane. Frizzell would sink a 3-pointer from the top of the key after coming up with a loose ball at 9:43 to go to — ushering in a five-minute period where the lead changed hands six times.

Until LSU found enough mettle on the defensive end, a trait it’ll need moving forward.

“I’ve never worried about this team scoring the basketball,” Caldwell said. “We’ve just got to be better on the defensive end.”