Lady Tigers relish No. 7 seed, matchup with Georgia Tech

Nikki Caldwell was ready to play right away, beaming broadly as she scooped up her 2-year-old daughter, Justice, and tried to get her to say “LSU” on cue.

Justice politely refused comment. But since the NCAA selection committee was willing to put LSU in the 64-team women’s tournament bracket, all was right in Caldwell’s world.

LSU’s name popped up in the second regional unveiled Monday during ESPN’s selection show. The Lady Tigers (19-12) are the No. 7 seed in the Louisville Regional and will take on No. 10 Georgia Tech (20-11) at 11:30 a.m. Sunday in a first-round game at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

The winner faces the winner of Sunday’s 2 p.m. first-round game at the PMAC between No. 2 seed West Virginia (29-4) and No. 15 Albany (28-4) in Tuesday’s second-round game at 8:30 p.m.

The LSU-Georgia Tech game will be on ESPN2, while West Virginia-Albany will be on ESPN.

Caldwell’s remote control won’t be used for channel surfing this week. Just scouting.

Hours and hours of scouting.

“Going to watch some film,” Caldwell said as she sped away from a packed and jubilant LSU viewing party at the Lawton Room in Tiger Stadium. “We’re excited about facing Georgia Tech. They’re a defensive-minded team with a balanced attack, and so are we. It’s about who can come out and capitalize on their game plan.”

There was a time when it looked like Selection Monday would bring heartbreak for the Lady Tigers.

LSU stumbled to a school-record-tying six straight losses to end the regular season that made picking up at least one game in the Southeastern Conference tournament earlier this month a mandate to show the selection committee the Lady Tigers were still a viable choice.

A 78-65 win over Alabama and a competitive 77-65 loss to Tennessee, which wound up with the No. 1 seed in the Louisville regional, apparently did enough to prove LSU’s worth, bolstered by its No. 15 RPI and the nation’s No. 2 strength of schedule.

When the bid finally came, senior Theresa Plaisance was elated.

“I think it’s a great draw,” said Plaisance, LSU’s two-time All-SEC pick. “I think (the selection committee was) pretty gracious. Our last (few) games haven’t shown what we’re capable of.

“Apparently the committee sees more than we’ve been showing.”

Fellow senior Jeanne Kenney was pleasantly surprised to see LSU as a No. 7 seed.

“We were expecting an 8, 9 or 10 seed,” Kenney said. “It’s a relief. You can breathe now. Now we can focus on our scouting.

“We’ve been working really hard in practice. Now it’s going to pay off.”

This is LSU’s 23rd NCAA appearance and 15th in the past 16 years.

The only time since 1999 the Lady Tigers missed the tournament was in 2011, when Kenney, Plaisance and Shanece McKinney were freshmen.

“It’s an honor to even be in the tournament,” Kenney said. “We three seniors know what it’s like not to be in. To go out and compete and get a bid is a great honor.”

Freshman guard Raigyne Moncrief won’t know the disappointment of missing March Madness in her first year as a Lady Tiger.

“I didn’t know it was going to be such a big deal,” Moncrief said, her smile matching the wattage of her coach’s face. “It’s my first time to be a part of something this big.

“It’s exciting to have a chance to fight to go to the Final Four. This is a dream come true for me.”

This is the third time in as many seasons under Caldwell that LSU will open the NCAA tournament at home.

LSU was a No. 5 seed in 2012 and beat No. 12 San Diego State 64-56 in the first round but was out-offensed by No. 4 Penn State 90-80 in the second round.

A year ago, the Lady Tigers were a No. 6 seed and edged No. 11 Green Bay 75-71 in the first round but lost Kenney to a concussion when she collided with teammate Adrienne Webb late in the game.

Despite having only seven healthy players, LSU upset No. 3 seed Penn State 71-66 in the second round to propel the Lady Tigers to the Spokane regional semifinals.

It was LSU’s first trip to the Sweet 16 since the program’s most-recent Final Four appearance in 2008.

Moncrief is eager for the chance to try to follow the same path.

“It’s time for our team to make history, to make something happen,” she said. “Hopefully we’ll pull it together and get two wins on our floor. We already have the (home-court) advantage; we just have to win.”