DEVILLE: Chancellor, LSU Bound For Title

Well, well, well. It seems the LSU Lady Tigers have themselves a ball coach.

Remember back when LSU dismissed Pokey Chatman as the head coach of the Lady Tigers? Remember when certain people criticized the university when it hired Hall of Fame coach Van Chancellor?

He's too old. He can't recruit. He has been away from the college game too long.

Well, if you were one of those people, here's a wash cloth so you can wipe the egg right off your face.

As Skip Bertman gets ready to make his final move as LSU's athletic director – which will be hiring a men's basketball coach – he can rest easy knowing there are no worries about the women's program.

A little less than a year ago, it looked as if the Lady Tigers' once-proud program may have been headed for the skids. Many wondered what would become of LSU women's basketball after it was shrouded in the controversy surrounding Chatman's shameful dismissal. After Bob Starkey directed the Lady Tigers through an unprecedented run to the program's fourth straight Final Four, LSU wasted little time in pulling the trigger on Chancellor.

The former Ole Miss and Houston Comets head coach brought with him an impressive résumé, including four WNBA titles, a storied career in Oxford, and a recent induction into the coveted Naismith Hall of Fame.

Oh, and by the way, he can coach some roundball.

Immediately, Chancellor began working with his team, trying to instill confidence to a squad that desperately lacked just that – especially on the offensive end of the floor.

Some questioned if Chancellor had what it takes to not only sustain the success LSU has had in recent years but also to keep up with the pace of college basketball in the year 2008.

His folksy, down-home ways gave the LSU women's basketball program a flair it hadn't seen before. And despite some early bumps in the road with losses to Maryland, Rutgers and Middle Tennessee State, the future looked bright.

But after last Thursday's shocker in Knoxville, that brightness has turned into a radiant glow.

Trailing 21-2 just six minutes into the contest, LSU looked dead in the water against No. 1 Tennessee. The Lady Vols had recently ascended to the nation's top spot with UConn's loss to Rutgers. Just four nights earlier, Tennessee needed the help of a generous clock operator to slip past that same Scarlet Knights team to retain the No. 1 ranking.

Pat Summitt's team needed little help early on Valentine's night in manhandling LSU. The Lady Tigers, who had won 11 straight coming into the contest at Thompson-Boling Arena, were doomed for defeat at the hands of Candace Parker and Co.

With 14:12 to play in the first half and LSU in a 19-point hole, Chancellor called a timeout. His initial plan coming into the game was to play forward Ashley Thomas on the All-American Parker and double her inside with Sylvia Fowles.

Considering Parker had 11 of Tennessee's 21 points at that juncture, Chancellor adjusted. He rolled Fowles onto Parker, which was a better size matchup, but the risk was Parker's speed. At that point, it didn't matter, though.

"I challenged everything about their livelihood as a player," Chancellor said later. "I wanted to try to shake them up. My thinking was, ‘Try to get a little bit back at a time.' I thought that was the difference in the game. We were able to cut (the lead) and get back in the game in the first half."

Well, it might have been the adjustment of the year in college basketball.

Fowles manned up on Parker, and Thomas helped with double-teams in the paint. Sure, Parker finished with 26 points, but Tennessee's reliance on its All-American would be its downfall as the Lady Vols had only one other player finish in double figures.

On the flip side, the Lady Tigers fed off the defensive intensity and got things going on the offensive end.

In what will go down as one of the largest turnarounds in NCAA college basketball history, LSU rallied back. On the strength of a 3-point shooting barrage fueled by Allison Hightower, the Lady Tigers actually took a 30-29 lead with 1:38 to play in the first half.

Tennessee did go into the halftime break on top 33-30, but LSU was back in the hunt.

However, neither the 15,574 in attendance nor the folks watching on Fox Sports had any idea just what Chancellor and his team had in the tank for the second half.

The Lady Tigers came storming out of the gates, outscored Tennessee 48-29 in the second half, and ran away with a 78-62 thrashing of Summitt's Lady Vols. Completing the 37-point turnaround, LSU handed Tennessee its second-worst home loss in program history.

The victory was only LSU's second over the No. 1-ranked team in the country in 12 attempts. It was also the Lady Tigers' second win ever in Knoxville and marked the program's second consecutive victory on Rocky Top. LSU topped Tennessee 72-69 on Feb. 9, 2006.

For Chancellor, it was his first-ever win in Thompson-Boling Arena. He had won previously in Knoxville, but it had been in the old Stokley Coliseum.

LSU is now in the driver's seat in terms of the SEC race. With 13 straight victories, including a win over his former team, Ole Miss, last Sunday, Chancellor looks to be headed to his first-ever SEC title.

The Lady Tigers have won two other conference titles, in 2005 and 2006, under Chatman's tutelage. But in both seasons, the Lady Tigers' run came to a dismal ending with blowout losses in the Final Four.

Both times, in losses to Baylor (2005) and Duke (2006), LSU met the same fate as Tennessee did last Thursday. Summitt and the Lady Vols relied too much on Parker, just as Chatman and her Lady Tigers leaned too heavily on the great Seimone Augustus.

The difference in today's Lady Tigers under Chancellor and those LSU teams under Chatman is the fact that the veteran Chancellor can recognize the problem; Chatman could not.

Chatman put all of her eggs in the Augustus basket and, in the end, the Lady Tigers got beat. Chancellor recognized that Tennessee relied so heavily on Parker, and he made the adjustment to collapse on the Lady Vols' star.

Now, now, after witnessing last football season, it was all about coaches winning with other people's players. Les Miles critics said he was winning with Nick Saban's talent. Well, is Chancellor winning with Chatman's talent?

Well, yes. But here's the deal though; he IS winning! Like Miles, could Chancellor deliver the top prize?

Stay tuned...

Did I mention, he also has a top-notch recruiting class heading to Baton Rouge to replace nine seniors that will depart at the season's end.

In the mean time, one has to wonder: If Chatman was still leading the Lady Tigers, would she have made the critical in-game adjustment like Chancellor did versus Tennessee? Chatman was known as a great recruiter, but X's and O's was her weakness.

Likely, Chatman wouldn't have made that adjustment, much like she didn't in back-to-back blowouts in the national semifinals against Baylor and Duke. And Tennessee would have likely turned that 21-2 advantage into a 40-point blowout.

The difference now is LSU has a ball coach. And with the SEC title firmly in grasp, one has to wonder how the rest of the season plays out.

The disappointing thing is just how many national championship rings Augustus might have had had she played for Chancellor.

We'll never know.


Matt Deville is the editor of Tiger Rag. Reach him at

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