McKinney is defensive difference for LSU

When it comes to quantifying Shanece McKinney’s contribution to the LSU women’s basketball team, numbers lie.

McKinney’s 3.9 points and 3.7 rebounds per game aren’t figures that amaze. She leads active LSU players with a 60.8 field-goal percentage, but she’s taken fewer shots (74) than any other Lady Tigers starter.

To see McKinney’s true value to her team, especially during LSU’s current season-redeeming, six-game winning streak, you have to pry your eyes away from the basketball and watch her work.

See her drape her 6-feet-4 frame all over an opposing post player defensively. Witness her push for daylight to position herself for a key rebound.

Fellow forward Theresa Plaisance has earned just praise for transforming herself into one of premier offensive threats in the Southeastern Conference.

But hear coach Nikki Caldwell tell it, McKinney’s contribution has been just as vital.

“McKinney’s defensive presence has been key for us,” Caldwell said. “It’s definitely changed the complexion of the games at times. Her defense is equally as important as Theresa making a shot.”

In short, McKinney has transformed herself into exactly the kind of team player the No. 22 Lady Tigers (19-10) need as they begin the SEC tournament Thursday against Auburn (7:30 p.m. CST, FSN Cox Cable Ch. 38).

“She’s a team kid, isn’t worried about getting 20 shots a game, and does what we ask her to do,” said LSU assistant coach Tony Perotti, who has worked closely with McKinney on her game. “You win with kids who are willing to play that way.”

“She’s basically being an obedient soldier, if you will, going out and doing the dirty work that needs to be done for us to win,” Caldwell said.

McKinney said she had no choice but to be tall. Her father David is 6-5, her uncle 6-8. McKinney even has a grandmother who stands 6-1.

It was her choice to improve herself as a player, to step into the void left by the five departed post players from last year’s LSU team.

Perotti said McKinney camped in the LSU weight room during the offseason, working on her strength and conditioning. Together they honed her moves and footwork.

McKinney labored at something else, too: channeling her aggressive side, which isn’t the part of her personality that she naturally projects.

“I was very passive my first two years,” McKinney said. “Coach Nikki brought it out more.

“I’m not a person who tries to make myself standout, because clearly I do it being 6-4. On the court, my goal is to stand out, to make other teams know, ‘I’m here, you’re not getting anything in the paint.’”

The change in McKinney’s approach to the game has been remarkable to her head coach.

“She’s playing like a woman possessed,” Caldwell said, “when you look at her attacking people’s shots, trying to block shots, getting key rebounds when we need them. She’s knocked down free throws at critical times to solidify wins for us. She’s doing all the little things.”

The role of a role player isn’t a difficult one for McKinney to play. She’s happy, perhaps even relieved, to have found her niche.

“It (my confidence) is probably at a 10,” she said.

“I just figured out what I do well: block shots and rebound. I score now and then, but that’s not my main goal.”

Lady Tigers’ SEC honors

Plaisance and fellow Lady Tigers Adrienne Webb and Danielle Ballard were recognized Tuesday as the SEC announced its postseason awards.

Plaisance was a first-team All-SEC and all-defensive team selection, while Webb, a senior guard, made the second team. Ballard, also a guard, was an all-freshman and all-defensive team pick.

Plaisance, a 6-5 junior from Vandebilt Catholic, is possibly the SEC’s most improved player. She is second in the SEC in scoring with 17.6 points per game (she averaged 4.5 last season), is sixth in rebounding (8.2), first in blocks (2.8) and sixth in field-goal percentage (45.5).

Webb is 10th in the SEC in scoring at 13.9 points and third in free-throw shooting (81.5 percent).

Ballard ranks second among SEC freshmen in scoring (12.6) and rebounding (6.7). She leads the SEC with 90 steals, ranking second nationally in that category for freshmen.