The LSU Lady Tigers made it all the way to the Final Four last season. They appear to have what it takes to get there again.
Right now the pollsters think so highly of Pokey Chatman's ballclub that they are ranked No. 1 in the country. You won't get any argument from the Ole Miss Lady Rebels, who fell to the visiting Lady Tigers 82-58 Thursday night at Tad Smith Coliseum.
"I thought LSU looked like the No. 1 team in the country," Ole Miss head coach Carol Ross said. "They not only are very talented but they play with great effort and they play really hard. I didn't see anything tonight that made me think they aren't deserving of their ranking."
Returning four starters from last season's 27-8 squad, the veteran Lady Tiger ballclub wouldn't be rattled by a Lady Rebel crowd of just under 4,000. Led by junior forward Seimone Augustus, LSU took over the game midway through the second half and won its 20th game of the season against only one setback - a 51-49 overtime loss at Rutgers on Jan.5.
"I was extremely pleased with the overall effort of our kids," said Chatman, who took over the head coaching position from veteran LSU head coach Sue Gunter during the season last year because of an illness to the longtime Lady Tiger mentor. "We knew Ole Miss was one of the tops in the league in rebounding and we knew it would be tough. It was good to come out and establish some things early. I'm pleased we were able to shoot 53 percent on the road. We beat a very good basketball team tonight."
After Ole Miss went up 5-3 on a 3-point basket by senior guard Carletta Brown, LSU began to show signs of taking the game over, even that early. Midway through the first half the Lady Tiger lead was 19-10. Ole Miss made a brief run but the Lady Tigers stretched it out to a 40-26 lead at the halftime.
The Lady Rebels came out hot in the second half and cut it to seven points on a couple of occasions, the first at 43-36 on a Liz Cansdale 3-point basket with 16:40 to go. After the Lady Tigers went up 48-38, Carletta Brown nailed a try from the top of the key when the basketball was kicked out to her by Amber Watts off a rebound at the 13:39 mark of the second half to make it 48-41.
But Ross wasn't surprised at what happened next.
"We made a run at them early in the second half," she said. "Then they responded like all great teams do with a run of their own."
The Lady Tigers then went to work to make sure they stayed atop the SEC standings and the polls. The lead was up to 18 points at 64-46 when senior center Amber Watts picked up her third foul. When Watts fouled out with six minutes to go with only one point for the night along with three rebounds and a block (she averages 13 points and seven boards), the task of winning for LSU was made easier.
"It really hurt me not to be out there, because I couldn't contribute," Watts said. "I couldn't help my team on the bench."
Still it most likely wouldn't have been enough had she remained in the game as the Lady Tigers led by 19 points (70-51) shen she departed.
It all actually had gotten away from Ole Miss much earlier. Ross wasn't pleased with her team's performance and said that it always takes a special effort to beat the great teams.
"You can't play as hard as LSU and beat them. You have to play harder than them," she said. "They're better than you when they come out of the locker room. You have to find ways to take away a team's strengths. We've been able to do that when we've been successful. Is it harder to take away LSU's strengths than other teams' strengths? Yes it is, but I have to think as a coach that we can do that or I couldn't send them out of the locker room."
On Sunday, Ole Miss, now 15-6 and 5-3, will face the same type challenge as they play No. 5 Tennessee (17-3, 7-0) in Knoxville.
"It's the same from one game to the next in this league," she said. "Had we beaten LSU tonight we'd still have to leave it behind us and move on. That's what this league demands of you. You're not allowed to lick your wounds when you lose, and you're not allowed to celebrate when you win. You just move forward."
Ole Miss shot just 28 percent for the game including 27 percent from 3-point range. As Chatman pointed out, LSU was ablaze at 53 percent; behind the 3-point arc 42 percent. The Lady Tigers outrebounded Ole Miss 47-37.
Brown paced UM with 17 while sophomore guard Armintie Price had 15.
LSU had four players in double figures, led by Seimone Augustus with 22.
"Tennessee is obviously a very good team, and I'm excited we get the chance to go right back into the lions' den and to get right back up on the horse and try to ride it again," Ross said, wrapping things up from Thursday night. "You can't get a loss out of your system until you win. I know this team is excited about getting back on the court Sunday."
Lady Rebs fall to No. 1 LSU
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