LSU ensured itself a third round date with a 80-69 victory over the Phoenix. The win broke a two-game losing streak in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, with those losses coming to Purdue in 2001 and Colorado in 2002.
"Every time you win a game and get closer, you get excited," guard Kisha James said. "We just haven't been able to get across that hump. Hopefully, well make it to the Final Four this year."
However, the Lady Tigers had to fight through a scary incident midway through the second half on the road to victory.
Star point guard Temeka Johnson went down hard with just under 13 minutes. It appeared she received an errant elbow from UWGB's Chandra Johnson while guarding the center on a shot attempt.
LSU's Johnson was called for a foul on the play, and stayed on the floor for the next five minutes as the arena crowd came to a hush. She was eventually helped off the floor, but went straight to the locker room.
Johnson returned to the bench minutes later, and stepped back on to the court with 7:23 to play. However, she called a timeout with 6:59 and took herself out of the game, still showing affects from the elbow.
She did not return.
It was learned after the game that Johnson had suffered a slight concussion, and because her vision was also slightly blurred, she could not continue.
"Any time you lose a player of that caliber, someone has to step up," said Doneeka Hodges, who also went down with an injury but was able to return. "That's part of being a team."
In her place, James played 15 minutes, scored five points, and dished out four assists. But it was her ability to step in for Johnson that helped propel the Lady Tigers to victory.
"Was she not terrific?" said Gunter. "She came to play. She's quality. That was her time to shine, and she did."
With UWGB matching the Lady Tigers down low — Chandra Johnson led the Phoenix with 29 points — James' ability to run the offense without missing a beat played a key part in the victory.
"Being a point guard, you have to know when to push the ball up the court and when to slow down," James said. "That was a big part of the game.
"I've just been waiting my turn. My job is to play backup point guard. Step in and play big."
Doneeka Hodges led LSU in scoring with 20 points, but overall, the Lady Tigers posted a balanced offensive attack. Aiysha Smith, Seimone
Augustus, and Ke-Ke Tardy each scored 12 points en route to victory.
Eight players scored in the win as LSU shot 63 percent from the field.
"Everybody that entered the game really did their job," Gunter said. "That's what we've been about all year.
The Phoenix played a scrappy offensive style, pounding the ball inside to Johnson, but also making sure to mix in three-pointers when needed. They shot 43 percent from the floor, and just 32 percent from beyond the three-point arc.
However, they were able to stay close until the final minutes when shots regularly rang off the rim.
"The inside game ate us up," Gunter said. "They just would not go away. We knew how explosive they were, how they can come back, and how they can shoot threes."
Much like the first round contest against SW Texas, the teams stayed close for the early part of the game. The Lady Tigers led 23-16 with 9:31 left as both teams came storming out of the gate.
Doneeka Hodges rang a three-pointer with 6:07 left, pushing the LSU lead to eight, 30-22.
"Doneeka is an outstanding shooter," Gunter said. "When she gets going, it really does bring energy to this team."
LSU entered the locker room with a commanding 43-31 lead, but UWGB's ability to knock back an occasional three-pointer kept the game close early on in the second half.
That happened when Natalie Yudt hit a baseline shot from the beyond the arc four minutes in, pinching the lead to 47-40.
The Phoenix never got closer than five points from that point on, but did give the Lady Tigers a scare in the closing minutes of the game.
They got to within six, 71-65, with 2:41 left, but could not beat the LSU defense late.
"We were just trying to work as hard as we could to defend the three and not foul," Gunter said.
With the win, the Lady Tigers improve to 7-4 in the second round all-time in the NCAA Tournament.
"It's nice to be back in the Sweet 16 again," Gunter said.
The Lady Tigers now travel to Stanford, Calif., for a third round game March 30. They will play the winner of Ohio State and Lousiana Tech, set to be played Tuesday night.