If you follow LSU women’s basketball, you may have heard this before.
Their NCAA tournament hopes pushed to the brink, the Lady Tigers fight back with an impressive late-season winning streak. Then they head on the road to wrap up the regular season against a talented, nationally ranked opponent.
Last season, LSU saw its six-game winning streak snapped at Georgia, 62-46. This season, LSU will try to extend its winning streak to six at No. 13 Texas A&M (21-8, 11-4 Southeastern Conference).
This time around, LSU coach Nikki Caldwell sounds a defiant tone, vowing that things are different for her depth-challenged but confident crew.
“This team is a different team from last year,” she said. “We have also played Texas A&M and last year we didn’t play Georgia until that game. So we have an idea of what we’re going to be going up against and what we need to do.
“The one thing I want to make sure our team understands is that we’re not that same team from a month ago, that we are a much better team. We’ve had some quality wins since then.”
Five straight wins, including two over then-top-10 teams, have pushed the Lady Tigers’ record to 18-10 overall and 8-6 in the SEC. Tipoff is set for 1 p.m. Sunday on the SEC Network (locally on WBXH, Cox Cable Ch. 16). The game can be heard locally on 107.3 FM.
The last time the Lady Tigers and Aggies met, LSU was floundering. After digging themselves an early 9-0 hole, the Lady Tigers fought back within five points with four minutes left before a closing 13-1 A&M run buried LSU’s hopes, 74-57, its most lopsided of the season.
A heartbreaking 64-62 loss to Tennessee followed, but the Lady Tigers righted their ship with a 62-54 upset of then-No. 9 Georgia on Feb. 10.
Four more wins, including a 77-72 upset of then-No. 8 Kentucky a week ago, have made LSU one of the two hottest teams in the SEC along with the regular-season champion Lady Volunteers. This despite a roster thinned to eight available players with a season-ending illness to forward Sheila Boykin and the suspension of guard Coco Baker.
Junior guard Jeanne Kenney is hampered by a stress reaction in her left foot but will play, Caldwell said.
“Since (the A&M loss) we’ve done a much better job in supporting each other,” Caldwell said, “whether it’s better ball pressure through (guards Danielle) Ballard and (Adrienne) Webb, or us doing a much better job of rebounding the basketball. We’re doing a lot of other things better.”
LSU goes into the game tied for sixth place in the SEC standings with Vanderbilt (18-9, 8-6), which the Lady Tigers beat 54-51 on Jan. 20.
LSU and Vandy will be the No. 6 and 7 seeds in this week’s conference tournament, which begins Wednesday in Duluth, Ga.
An LSU win or a Vandy loss at Georgia on Sunday would give the Lady Tigers the No. 6 seed. If LSU loses at A&M and Vandy beats Georgia, the Lady Tigers will be the No. 7 seed.
“You always want to win your last game going into (postseason) play,” said Webb, who scored a game-high 21 points Thursday in LSU’s 76-42 demolition of Alabama. “We want to keep this good thing going with this winning streak we have. We want to carry it over to the SEC tournament. It’s really a confidence booster that we have the wins, but we want to keep a level head and keep believing that we’re going to come out with a ‘W.’”
The game shapes up as a battle of the SEC’s two premier post players: 6-foot-5 LSU forward Theresa Plaisance and 6-4 A&M center Kelsey Bone.
Plaisance ranks second in the SEC in scoring (17.6 points per game), sixth in rebounding (8.3 rpg) and first in blocks (2.8). Bone is third in scoring (17.4 ppg), second in rebounding (9.8) and first in field-goal shooting (58.0 percent).
“Going against a big-time post player like Kelsey Bone, she’s going to do big things for them,” Plaisance said. “She’s averaging 17 points a game, so we really need to limit her touches and her scores. Hopefully that’ll make it a closer game.
“Part of the game plan is to get their posts in foul trouble. They have a very big lineup with their three post players. We have a pretty big lineup with ours. We have to pound the ball inside, draw fouls, get them on the bench as soon as possible and make them go to their guard game.”
This will be the second game between the Lady Tigers and former longtime LSU coach Bob Starkey, now an assistant at A&M. Starkey was at LSU from 1990-2011, serving with both the men’s and women’s programs, including a stint as acting head coach during the Lady Tigers’ run to the 2007 Women’s Final Four.