Finding a way

Lady Tigers fight through flatness to claim a 53-49 win against Mississippi State.

With one tough streak ended in impressive fashion, it was time for the LSU women to begin another one Thursday when Mississippi State came to the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

Thing was, the Lady Tigers had to figure out how to do that without the emotion and energy they needed every ounce of a few days earlier to topple No. 5 Kentucky.

That task wound up in the hands of seniors LaSondra Barrett and Courtney Jones – now in the role as LSU's spark plugs off the bench – and they didn't disappoint.

Barrett scored 12 of the Lady Tigers' final 14 points and Jones snared three key rebounds in the closing minutes as LSU grinded out a 53-49 victory to climb back above .500 in SEC play with five games left in the regular season.

"We have to be there for our team," said Jones, who finished with 7 rebounds, all in 16 second-half minutes. "We're seniors and we need to be there as support and we need to be there mentally as well. Whether we are putting up baskets and rebounds or just encouraging them, we have to do our part."

It took every part done well for LSU (16-8, 6-5) Thursday, thanks to a feisty effort by the Bulldogs.

The Lady Tigers' largest lead was 28-21 late in the first half after an 11-0 run seemed to give them control after a back-and-forth initial 7:05.

That lead evaporated when State (13-11, 3-8) inched back within 28-25 by halftime, knotted the score on Darriel Gaynor's 3-pointer at the 16:54 mark of the second half and went in front when Diamber Johnson swished a pair of free throws on the next possession.

From there, the teams swapped the lead five times in 2:51 with State still barely in control, 37-35 at the media timeout with 11:51 left in the game.

LSU coach Nikki Caldwell said the Lady Tigers played without the same kind of gusto they had to beat Kentucky, which she was worried about after a few flat days of practice.

LaSondra Barrett

But there was a timely sense of urgency from Jones and especially Barrett when there had to be.

With the score deadlocked, Barrett – operating as the point guard – drove the lane for a bucket that put LSU back in front for the first time in 7:06, 41-39 with 6:18 to go.

Gaynor cranked in another 3 to life the Bulldogs back into the lead, but Jones gathered in a pass from Jeanne Kenney on the other end and finished off a nice reverse layup that gave the Lady Tigers the lead for good.

Jones also corralled defensive rebounds on the next two State possessions to prevent second-chance shots and kept an LSU possession alive with an offensive board that led to a Barrett free throw.

"Sometimes we play Batman and Robin," Barrett said. "If Courtney's scoring, I rebound, and if I'm scoring, she rebounds. We play off each other. Going in we needed rebounds, and she sacrificed her body and had the will to get the ball. We knew if we got stops on the other end we could get to the free-throw line and stretch the game instead of having to worry about being tight at the end."

It remained tight, but Barrett made sure that didn't matter.

Her free throw after Jones' offensive rebound with 4:22 left started a run of her scoring LSU's final 10 points, eight from the foul stripe. She finished with 17 points, anchored by an 11-for-13 night from the line. She also grabbed 7 rebounds.

Balance was the key for the Lady Tigers in the first half, with four players scoring at least 4 points, paced by Adrienne Webb's 8.

Kenney and Webb ignited the 11-0 run by igniting LSU's best defensive stretch of the game. Kenney had two steals during the Bulldogs' drought and also scored twice on fast-break drives. Webb contributed one flurry where she snared a defensive carom, fed Kenney for a hoop in transition and then drained a 3 herself moments later on the third shot of a possession.

LSU shot 50% in the first 20 minutes (11 of 22), but turned the ball over 10 times.

State, meanwhile, hung around by attacking LSU with mid-range jump shots and 3-pointers. The Lady Bulldogs hit 5-of-12 from outside the 3-point arc, paced by Gaynor's 3-for-3 night and were able to hit enough shots in the game's opening 28:09 to maintain the lead.

After grabbing a 37-35 cushion, though, the Bulldogs began to struggle against the Lady Tigers rejuvenated defense.

Katia May buried a 20-foot jumper from the right corner with 13:07 on the clock and after that State missed 13 of its last 16 floor shots – suffering through nine consecutive misses between May's make and Gaynor's final 3 with 5:37 to go.

Nikki Caldwell

"We knew this was going to be a battle," Caldwell said. "It was at Mississippi State. They're a well-coached team, and they get after you defensively. Obviously, we did what we needed to do on the defensive end, but I was very proud of this group for their late game play and coming away with the victory."

Webb scored 10 points after the busy first half, while Kenney chipped in with 8 points, 4 assists and 3 steals. Johnson was the only State player in double digits with 15.

Now the Lady Tigers go back on the road for back-to-back games, starting Sunday at Alabama, which is winless in the SEC, including an 84-40 loss at LSU.

With back-to-back victories for the first time since Jan. 8 and 12, the Lady Tigers are looking for more fuel for a late-season surge.

"We need to stay very attentive to what it is that we do best," Caldwell said. "Obviously, we can't control anything that other teams are running, but we can control how hard we defend their action. We need to focus in on making layups and establishing our inside presence, whether it's man or zone. We need to continue to work on taking care of the basketball."


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