The 23rd-ranked Lady Razorbacks gave No. 6 LSU all they wanted before finally taking the fall in the final minute. While Gunter was referring to the two team's in question as the heavyweights involved, Arkansas' Shameka Christon and Lady Tiger Seimone Augustus were the key players in this bout.
Christon scored 33 points and pulled down 11 boards leading the Lady Razorbacks. However, it was not enough.
Augustus, the recently crowned SEC Freshman of the Year, scored 22 points and was one of four LSU players finishing in double figures as the Lady Tigers' defeated Arkansas for the second time in 10 days. LSU toppled the Lady'Backs 70-59 last Wednesday in Baton Rouge.
LSU advances to the seminfinals Saturday and will meet Vanderbilt at 8:30 p.m. The Lady 'Dores ended the regular season with a 72-60 win over the Lady Tigers in Nashville, Tenn.
Tennessee meets Mississippi State in the other semifinal game.
LSU (25-3) trailed only once against Arkansas. An India Lewis jump shot gave the Lady'Backs a 70-69 advantage, its only lead of the game. LSU quickly responded when Temeka Johnson knocked down an 18-foot jumper re-positioning the Lady Tigers atop the scoreboard.
"I thought we got over the hump when we finally got the lead," Arkansas head coach Gary Blair said. "But give LSU credit, they just kept coming back."
Although LSU trailed by only a span of 26 seconds between the Lewis and Johnson shots, the game was a struggle from beginning to end. The Lady Tigers could never extend their largest lead, 10 points, that came twice in the second half.
"I am happy our kids could dig in their heels," Gunter said.
Arkansas' resiliency, fueled by a hefty crowd of Razorback supporters (some 8,000 strong), allowed Blair's team to battle back time and again.
"It wore on us a little, but we never felt down," Lewis said. "We felt like we were right in there, just always a shot away. We never felt out of it."
With the shot clock running down with just under three minutes left to play, LSU's Doneeka Hodges hit a long-range three-point, pushing the Lady Tiger's lead to 74-70.
"Doneeka Hodges gave us a big, 18-foot shot that gave us back a lead," Gunter said. "And we never trailed again.
However, it was not until the Lady Tigers sank four free throws in the last 19 seconds, two a piece by Augustus and Ke-Ke Tardy, did the mood turn fully in LSU's favor. The Lady Tigers moved ahead by six at 78-72, which would be the final tally.
Free throw shooting was the difference in the game.
After going to the line just seven times in last Sunday's loss at Vanderbilt, Gunter urged her team to take it to the hole more often Friday against Arkansas. In the end, LSU went to the line 31 times, sinking 25 attempts from the charity stripe.
"They slash and cut to the basket well and are very disciplined in their attack," Blair said. "They run the best motion offense in the country, so we knew we couldn't play man on them. We couldn't press them for 40 minutes."
Arkansas's zone defense slowed LSU's Aiysha Smith in the paint, usually a force for the Lady Tigers under the goal. Smith did manage 11 points on the day, but the Lady'Backs defense forced LSU to shift its offensive attack to the perimeter, mainly Augustus.
The Baton Rouge freshman was 8-of-12 from the floor leading the Lady Tigers with 22. Augustus' performance drew high marks from Blair.
"Seimone Augustus took over the game," Blair said. "Not many freshman can take over a game of this magnitude like she did."
Augustus joked she is no longer a freshman in this league.
"I really don't feel like a freshman anymore," she said. "This is like a practice because my team told me how effective I needed to be coming out. My teammates tell me all the time to think and play like a veteran ball player, and not as a freshman."
While Augustus was impressive in her collegiate postseason debut, Arkansas' Christon stole the show eclipsing the 30-point mark. Christon nailed 15-of-23 field goals in the game and scored 23 points in the second half.
"We knew where to go when she got hot," Blair said. "They couldn't stop her (Christon). LSU is disciplined enough not to foul her, but still make her hit the tough shot. They kept her off the line."
Christon said she was definitely "feeling it."
"My team gave me the ball. When you're in a zone, you have to want the ball and have the desire to keep pushing to try to score and make the shots."
Christon led Arkansas back from a nine-point deficit midway through the second half just as the Lady Tigers looked as if they were beginning to pull away. An Augustus bucket gave LSU a 54-45 lead with 12:41 to go in the game.
Christon, though, answered with eight consecutive points, including a clutch trey with 11:14 to go, which trimmed LSU's advantage to a single point, 54-53.
"She made huge plays for us today," Lewis said. "They didn't stop her. We knew she would make her shots, so we had to focus on defense. We wanted to get her the ball until they stopped her."
In the end, however, it was LSU that made the shots.
The Lady Tigers flirted with a four-point lead for a large portion of the closing minutes. DeTrina White scored an acrobatic layup giving LSU a 66-62 with 5:36 left to play. Christon hit a running jump shot making it a two-point game at the 5:08 mark, 66-64.
White pitched in one of two free throws with 4:47 left to play before Christon reduced LSU's lead to a single point, 67-66 with 4:08 remaining.
Following two Temeka Johnson free throws, back-to-back field goals by Christon and Lewis gave the Lady'Backs their brief lead.
LSU then outscored Arkansas 9-2 over the final 3:01 sealing the win.
Trailing Augustus in scoring, Johnson put up 15 points along with four assists, four rebounds and four steals. Smith and Hodges (seven assists) each scored 11 in the win.
Two other Lady Razorbacks finished in double digits with Dana Cherry scored 16 (seven rebounds) along with Lewis' 11.
In defeat, Blair was still excited about the quality of the game.
"You just watched one heck of a ball game," Blair said.
"I think people who were here tonight saw a great game, period," Gunter said.