Now that the book has closed on LSU's spring semester, it's time to take a look back at the 2013-14 academic calendar year in sports.
There were plenty of exciting plays, games and moments, and even a few heartfelt ones, but as always some stood out above the rest. This week I'll be rolling out the five most memorable moments from this beat writer's vantage point. (They will all come from the football and basketball programs as those are the two beats I cover.)
For those curious the only criterion used in my selection was "Which moments will I remember most vividly, as if they had just occurred, 10 years from now?" I have not ranked them, so they appear in no particular order.
** You can also share your favorite moment from Tiger athletics in 2013-14 on TSD. Send a brief email with your name, hometown and favorite moment to ben85L@yahoo.com. We'll run our collection of fan responses in a free story on the site next week. Limit one moment/email, please.
TIGERS TAME CATS IN ICE DOME THRILLER
Perhaps it's appropriate I start with this game as it was hands-down the most unusual and surreal atmosphere I witnessed on a competitive field or court for LSU this past year.
Allow me to recreate the scene . . .
The night was January 28, and Mother Nature for the past 24-36 hours had thrown a wintry mix of ice, freezing rain and light snow at Baton Rouge that citizens of the Red Stick were not only unaccustomed to, but woefully underprepared for.
Bridges shut down, long stretches of Interstate 10 were unusable and Mayor Kip Holden strongly advised locals to stay home and stay off the roads. Basically the city was closed for business. Yet, with ESPN's television crew, game officials and of course the other team – the Kentucky Wildcats, ranked 11th in the nation – in town, a decision was made to play on in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
But, despite the obvious travel restrictions, it was anything but a ghost town inside the House that Pete Built that night. For there was at least one group uninhibited by the elements: LSU students.
The students, living in walking distance from the gym, trekked over in numbers unseen over the past half-decade, filling the student section and then some to the tune of an estimated 3,500 people. They were also a raucous crew, having been off school the day of the contest and armed with the knowledge they'd be off again the next day. Furthering the cause the students' arrival was fêted by LSU brass, which provided the incoming scholars with free T-shirts and hot dogs, the latter of which almost certainly helped soak up the booze that only a day off school can bring.
Suffice it to say it was loud in the PMAC, which all-told held about 6,500 to greet John Calipari's Wildcats. The final touch needed was supplied by venerable PA announcer Dan Borné, who let out a line that was at once hysterical and somehow motivational.
"Welcome to the Ice Dome!"
At some point basketball ensued. And when it did Johnny O'Bryant and the Tigers, buoyed by a crowd participation level they could've never expected given the conditions, brought to the floor arguably their most complete performance of the season.
O'Bryant carved up a beefy and loaded UK frontline, scoring 29 points and grabbing nine rebounds while making 12 of his 20 field goal attempts and doing it in every conceivable way. I wrote about O'Bryant's masterpiece amid the flurry following the game. CLICK HERE to read that story.
Shavon Coleman, Anthony Hickey and Jordan Mickey each scored in double figures themselves, and LSU went on to claim an exhilarating 87-82 victory. Coach Johnny Jones' decision to go big, inserting Jarell Martin back into the starting lineup for Malik Morgan and sliding Coleman over to the two, paid big dividends. The Tigers blocked 11 shots, five by Mickey, against a team and frontcourt that ultimately danced all the way to the National Championship Game two months later.
Punctuating the win Jones took the microphone, addressing the crowd and expressing genuine gratitude for those who literally risked life and limb to catch a piece of the action on the hardwood.
That was the end of the story for anyone who watched the game on television. But take it from someone who was there, the rest of the evening contributed to the mythical status of the overall experience. And not in a particularly safe or conventional way.
I shut down the media room in the LSU Basketball Practice Facility that night, filing my final piece around 1:15 a.m. The journey from campus to my home, 10.8 miles, then took an hour and 35 minutes.
It was harrowing, to say the least. Never able to go more than about 12-15 miles per hour, it was a slow, grinding roll down Nicholson, which had taken on the look of a car graveyard with no less than five vehicles off in embankments, victims to the same slippery path I was attempting to navigate.
Eventually I made it home, but several other reporters, who live in Baton Rouge, stayed in on-campus hotels, fearing the wrath of the road. I guess it was just that kind of night. No one knew what to expect and, frankly, everyone was a little scared to do something we'd all done 10 times already that season – make the routine drive to campus for an LSU basketball game.
Looking back I can't imagine not having gone, and I'm relatively certain those who were there in purple and gold feel the same. There's not a doubt in my mind that the presence of all in attendance, particularly the student section, lifted the LSU team to another stratosphere, taking them from nervous and unsure to confident and fortified.
It's a memory that will definitely stick. I'll actually remember it less for the way LSU beat Kentucky than the way Baton Rouge beat the ice storm.