No. 1 Falls: Rutgers upsets top-ranked LSU

PISCATAWAY, NJ – LSU learned an important lesson at the Louis Brown Athletic Center last Wednesday night – on the road, a double-digit lead is never safe.

Ahead 39-26 with 8:52 to play, the Lady Tigers made just two field goals the rest of the way and paid the price with a 51-49 overtime loss to Rutgers.  The game capped an improbable week for the Scarlet Knights that saw them upend three ranked opponents – No. 8/8 Tennessee, No. 4/3 Texas and top-ranked LSU. 


"Our thought was probably, if we could get one of these, that would be great," Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer said. "Two is doable. But to take all three. While you want to, I think you have to have a cautious optimism. I became more of a believer as we played each game."


"When I replay the game in my head, the one thing that jumps out at me is that Rutgers seemed to get to all the important loose balls," said head coach Pokey Chatman.  "Even with the lead late in the second half, we never felt like this game was over.  Tonight, we discovered how important it is to be good finishes."


LSU was seemingly in control the entire night, led by junior forward Seimone Augustus, who finished with a game-high 25 points and also pulled down 10 rebounds.  Augustus scored 14 first-half points, several coming in transition, and the Scarlet Knights appeared to have no answer for the National Player of the Year candidate.  In overtime, however, Augustus missed two of four free throws after entering the game as an 89.2 percent shooter from the charity stripe.


The Lady Tigers broke open a close game in the first half with a 17-6 run that saw them turn a one-point deficit into a 30-20 lead after the first 20 minutes of play.  Temeka Johnson began the rally with a pair of free-throws, and over the final 7:54 of the half, LSU held Rutgers to just three field goals.  Augustus scored eight points during the run.  In all, the Lady Tigers' defense held Rutgers to just 28.6 percent shooting (8-28).


Rutgers began its second-half rally as senior All-America guard Cappie Pondexter made a jumper with 8:28 to play.  Fittingly, she also ended the rally, converting a driving lay-up at the 3:19 mark which gave Rutgers a 43-42 lead.  As the crowd of 7,214 rose to its feet, LSU responded by scoring the five points to take a 47-43 advantage with just 1:39 to play.  Augustus tipped in a missed three-point shot by Scholanda Hoston and LSU retook the lead, followed by a basket from Johnson and a free-throw from Sylvia Fowles.


Pondexter, who finished with 16 points on 7-for-17 shooting, made a lay-up with 1:19 remaining and Michelle Campbell tied the score with 40 seconds left.  LSU, however, had the final shot, but Augustus' jumper was short and the rebound was corralled from RU's Essence Carson as time expired.


"I thought the shot was good when it left my hand," said Augustus.  "It felt good and looked like it would be long enough.  But sometimes those shots just don't go in, and that's what happened.  Unfortunately, we just didn't make the big plays at the key times to get the W." 


"When you hold someone to 51 points in 45 minutes, you need to win," said Chatman.  "We did, but we'll move on and get over it."


In the extra session, the Lady Tigers hit an untimely cold-spell, missing on all seven of their field goals and making just two-of-five free throws.  Despite the offensive woes, LSU still had a chance to tie the game after Pondexter missed the front end of a one-and-one with five seconds to play, but Jackson's pass was intercepted by Chelsea Newton as the buzzer sounded.


"Rutgers competed a little bit harder than we did tonight and it showed because they came away with the victory," said Chatman. "We were in good shape at the half. We defended them well. We wanted to stay out of foul trouble and we wanted to get transition baskets, but it came down to who wanted it more."


Typical for two of the best defensive teams in the country, Wednesday's game was not pretty from an offensive standpoint.  The Lady Tigers were held to just 17 second-half points, their lowest output of the season.  Rutgers wasn't much better, however, hitting just 21 of 60 field goals on the night (35.0 percent) and one of six from three-point range.  The Lady Tigers also had an uncharacteristic 21 turnovers, leading to 17 Rutgers points.

"Hopefully this experience makes us tougher," said Chatman.  "We knew this would be a hostile environment and Rutgers was on a roll, but it's disappointing to lose because we felt like we let it slip away."

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