Call it the February Flip.
Going into a Super Bowl Sunday home game with Kentucky last year, the LSU Lady Tigers were 14-8 and tailspinning through a five-game Southeastern Conference losing streak.
Under the most unlikely of circumstances, LSU upset No. 6-ranked Kentucky to spark a six-game winning streak that rescued the Lady Tigers’ NCAA tournament hopes.
Going into a game two Sundays ago against then-No. 9 Georgia, LSU was 13-10 and languishing at 4-6 in SEC play.
Then, like against UK a year before, LSU sprang a crucial 62-54 upset of Georgia. Then, like last year, LSU beat Mississippi State, this time by a 63-41 score that marks its most lopsided winning margin this season.
There is a pattern emerging at LSU, and perhaps it is no coincidence.
Like last season, the Lady Tigers have found their defense. They have also found a way to outrebound their past four opponents.
Coach Nikki Caldwell is uncovering new weapons and options on what is currently a short nine-player bench (freshman guard Coco Baker remains suspended).
All season long, forward Theresa Plaisance has played at an All-SEC caliber level.
Mix in the toughness of point guard Jeanne Kenney, the scoring threat of guard Adrienne Webb. Add the emerging defense of Shanece McKinney (a career high five blocks at State on Sunday) and the silky smooth play of freshman guard Danielle Ballard (17 rebounds against Georgia, 19 points at State), and you have the makings of a team no team would relish facing in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in the first round of the NCAA tournament March 24.
Of course, the Lady Tigers first have to get there. LSU’s RPI got a modest bump Monday from 59 to 56. That’s good but still squarely in the middle of Bubbleville.
ESPN’s Charlie Crème has LSU as one of the last four teams in the field in his Bracketology as a No. 12 seed for the second straight week. LSU probably needs three more wins between its last four regular-season games and the SEC tournament, Crème said, but the right three.
“If they win three of four, that would mean a big win over either Kentucky or (Texas) A&M, so, yes, that will go a long way,” he said. “But I wouldn’t then say they could lose an opening-round SEC game, because that would probably mean a suspect loss; 18-11 and 9-7 would usually be a good measuring stick, but … no exact formula of wins is foolproof unless they just keep winning.”
Crème doesn’t think the fact LSU is hosting first round games will sway the selection committee, either.
“There have been hosts who were bubble teams in the past that did not get in,” Crème said. “Integrity is very important to everyone involved.”
So the mission and the message for LSU is to keep winning, starting with another dangerous road game Thursday at Missouri.