Lady Tigers eye NCAA berth on Monday

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNISLSU women's basketball coach Nikki Caldwell watches first-half action during against Georgia at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNISLSU women's basketball coach Nikki Caldwell watches first-half action during against Georgia at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

Around the LSU women’s basketball program, it’s become known as the Tim Tebow speech.

Her team reeling after back-to-back losses in early February dropped the Lady Tigers to 13-10 and out of any reasonable hope of making the NCAA tournament, Jeanne Kenney gathered the Lady Tigers around her in the locker room after their heartbreaking 64-62 loss to Tennessee and told them they couldn’t let seniors Bianca Lutley and Adrienne Webb go out on such a low note.

“Basically we all agreed we wouldn’t let Bianca and Webb go out on technically a losing season,” Kenney said. “It’s a losing season for us if we don’t make it to the (NCAA) tournament.

“Everyone responded really well, and we got the job done.”

LSU responded with a 62-54 upset of then-No. 9 Georgia that ignited a seven-game winning streak that included two other ranked victims
(No. 7 Kentucky and No. 13 Texas A&M) plus a win in the Southeastern Conference tournament over Auburn.

With LSU hosting first- and second-round NCAA tournament games at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center on Sunday and next Tuesday (March 26), LSU coach Nikki Caldwell threatened her team with custodial duties if they didn’t earn a bid.

“If it did come to that, we were sweeping floors, getting water for the participating teams,” Caldwell said. “I would have made them be as much of a participant as I
possibly could.”

There is little chance LSU won’t be an actual participant when the NCAA tournament field of 64 is announced at 6 p.m. Monday on ESPN.

Now 20-11, the Lady Tigers appear all but certain to earn an at-large NCAA tournament berth. According to ESPN women’s bracketologist Charlie Crème, the only mystery — if that even exists — is on which seed line and in which regional LSU will land.

“Looking at how the bracketing has to work this year, I don’t see them being anything but a 7,” Crème said. “Maybe they would end up as a 6.”

Five weeks ago, Crème had LSU as one of his first four out of the tournament. Slowly LSU crept back into his projections — at one time he had the Lady Tigers hosting No. 1-seeded Notre Dame while playing in the dreaded 8-9 slot — before positioning them as a No. 7 seed in the Oklahoma City regional.

Sunday, Crème had LSU hosting No. 10 South Florida with No. 2 California and No. 15 Stetson also playing here.

“They did what they’re supposed to do, which is start winning,” Crème said. “Win some games and beat some good teams. LSU had the (games with ranked) opponents, and when they did, they beat Georgia and Kentucky and A&M.”

If schools are serving as one of the 16 first- and second-round NCAA sites, they are guaranteed to play on their home court if they earn a bid.

Times for first-round games at the PMAC have been set at 4 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sunday, with the second-round game set for 8:30 p.m. March 26.

The winner of that Tuesday contest advances to regional semifinals, otherwise known as the Sweet 16. Regional sites this year also include Bridgeport, Conn.; Norfolk, Va.; and Spokane, Wash.

This would be LSU’s 22nd appearance in the NCAA tournament. The Lady Tigers have an all-time record of 39-21.

The Lady Tigers haven’t lost a first-round game in their last 14 straight appearances dating back to 1997. However, LSU hasn’t advanced past the second round in its last four appearances since its most recent Final Four trip in 2008.

That includes a pair of second-round losses at home — in 2009 to eventual national runner-up Louisville and last year to Penn State.

Theresa Plaisance, LSU’s All-SEC forward, said the Lady Tigers are determined to play in — and win — their final two games at home this time.

“We look at this as a home game,” said Plaisance, the SEC’s second-leading scorer with 17.4 points per game. “Tournament time is do or die. We don’t lose at home (LSU is 13-3). No one is going to come into our house and take it away from us.”

LSU has planned a “Selection Monday” party at the PMAC. Lower entrances to the arena open at 5 p.m.

Interactive on-court games and food are planned, and Caldwell and her players are scheduled to address the crowd.

Fans wishing to attend are asked to RSVP through the LSU women’s basketball office at (225) 578-6443 or by email at rarbour@lsu.edu.

NCAA tournament tickets are available at the LSU Athletic Ticket Office, online at LSUTix.net or by phone at (225) 578-2184.

Ticket books for both the first- and second-rounds are $25 for adults and $15 for children. Single-session tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for children. Tickets for groups of 10 or more are available for
$5 each.

LSU students are admitted free with a valid LSU ID.