It would be to forget where Nikki Caldwell came from or who she played for to even entertain the notion that she takes losing as an acceptable outcome.
Caldwell honed her game at Tennessee under the laser glare of Pat Summitt, who regarded every rare defeat as a personal affront.
But from where Caldwell’s second LSU basketball team has been and where she wants it to go, there was progress and optimism to be found in Thursday’s 66-59 loss at South Carolina.
“You don’t ever want to lose,” Caldwell said. “But there was a certain way we played that we hadn’t played all year.
“I saw a fight I hadn’t seen in our team in a long time. Nothing but good can come from that kind of game for us in the long run if we decide to play that way all the time.”
Vanderbilt (13-4, 3-1 Southeastern Conference), which invades the Pete Maravich Assembly Center at 2 p.m. Sunday, will test whether the Lady Tigers (11-7, 2-3) are ready to come out and play.
There are 11 conference games left for LSU, but Caldwell knows her team must start to put games in the win column now if it hopes to play in the PMAC in the NCAA tournament come March.
“We’re a team that’s got its back to the wall,” Caldwell said. “We’ve got to come out with everything against a very good Vanderbilt team and try to disrupt them through our defensive scheme.”
“We showed a lot of energy and fought with a lot of heart,” junior forward Theresa Plaisance said. “Now it’s the turning point for us to better ourselves for the rest of the season.”
That will be a tremendous challenge against a balanced Vanderbilt team that comes in second in the SEC in field-goal percentage at 44.8 percent (LSU is fourth at 44.5) and leading the conference in 3-point shooting at 37.1 percent (LSU is 13th at 25.8).
The Commodores are led by a formidable scoring trio of 6-foot senior forward Tiffany Clarke (15.8 points, 7.8 rebounds per game), 5-9 junior guard Christina Foggie (15.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg) and 5-4 junior guard Jasmine Lister (12.2, 3.4).
“They go as those three go,” Caldwell said. “They’re very good in their offensive scheme, finding their ‘go tos’ and setting screens.
“The other key for us is controlling the boards. Our bigs are going to have a challenge guarding Clark. Someone on our team is going to have to match her intensity whenever she’s in the game.”
That job will fall most of the game to the 6-5 Plaisance, second in the SEC in scoring (17.8 ppg), eighth in rebounding (8.0 rpg) and first in blocked shots (2.9 bpg).
She’s joined in double figures by 5-9 freshman guard Danielle Ballard, 11th in the SEC with 13.7 points per game, and 5-9 senior guard Adrienne Webb, 13th at 13.6 points per game.
While 5-8 junior guard Jeanne Kenney returned to the starting lineup after missing last Sunday’s victory over Mississippi State with a shoulder injury, Caldwell said 6-4 senior forward Shanece McKinney tweaked her ankle at South Carolina and is day-to-day.
If McKinney can’t go, Caldwell said she will rely more on 6-4 freshman forward Derreyal Youngblood and 6-2 sophomore Sheila Boykin, and will look to slide 5-11 senior Bianca Lutley more from the guard to the low post.
Vandy leads the all-time series 23-17, but both teams have dominated on their home courts.
The Commodores are 12-3 against the Lady Tigers in Nashville, while LSU is 11-4 at the PMAC against Vandy.
The Commodores will be looking to snap a four-game losing streak at LSU, a skid that includes the Lady Tigers’ 69-66 win here last season.
The game will not be televised but can be heard locally on 107.3 FM.