KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - The LSU women's basketball team concludes the regular season with its toughest test of the year as the Lady Tigers renew their rivalry with fourth-ranked Tennessee at 1 p.m. CT Sunday in what is expected to be a crowd of over 12,000 fans in Thompson-Boling Arena.
The game will be televised on ESPNU, but those fans who do not have ESPNU can watch streaming video of the contest on espn3.com. The LSU Sports Radio Network will carry the game on 107.3 FM in Baton Rouge and in the Geaux Zone on www.LSUsports.net/live.
LSU (18-11, 8-7 SEC) rallied from a 17-point first-half deficit to defeat South Carolina, 4-51, in overtime on Thursday while also keeping its NCAA Tournament hopes alive. The Lady Tigers are in a three-way tie with Auburn and South Carolina for fifth place in the Southeastern Conference standings. LSU's RPI has shot up to 44 according to CollegeRPI.com.
"To find a way to win in the second half, we showed a lot of mental toughness," said LSU head coach Van Chancellor. "We didn't play the greatest offensive game, but we kept fighting. To have a good year, you have to have a team that can win those types of games. I thought before the game it was a must win and we found a way.
"I don't think it matters whether we finish fifth, sixth or seventh in the SEC," said Chancellor. "When you get to this time of year, you have to play great basketball. When you go to the (SEC) tournament, people play at a different level. We are going to go to Tennessee, and I have no doubt we are going to play hard and play tough. Let's just play."
With the standings jumbled and one game left to decide SEC Tournament seedings, LSU can finish no lower than seventh place and the Lady Tigers have assured themselves of at least a .500 record in conference play for the 15th straight season. LSU will play on the first day of the SEC Tournament next Thursday in Nashville against an opponent and a time to be announced Sunday evening.
Tennessee (27-2, 15-0) seeks to make SEC history and become the first team in the league to post a 16-0 regular season since the conference schedule expanded last year. The Lady Vols are aiming to be the first team to complete a perfect SEC season since LSU did it with a 14-0 mark en route to a fifth straight Final Four in 2007-08. They have already clinched a 15th all-time SEC regular season title.
The Lady Vols have won 18 consecutive games. Tennessee has not lost since a 65-54 setback at No. 2 Baylor on Dec. 14. Their only other loss was to No. 12 Georgetown on Nov. 27. The Lady Vols have also won 33 consecutive games in Thompson-Boling Arena dating back to 2009, and Chancellor says this Tennessee team has perhaps its best depth ever.
"This might be the biggest basketball team I've ever seen," said Chancellor. "They have tremendous depth. Tennessee has always had great depth, but I don't think they've ever quite had the depth like they do this season. They are a physical basketball team and they all go to the boards. Their depth is what brought them back in Baton Rouge (in previous meeting). They can bring the likes of a (Alicia) Manning, a Kelley Cain and Vicki Baugh off the bench."
Four players average double-figures for Tennessee and freshman guard Meighan Simmons leads the way with 13.9 ppg overall. In conference games, Shekinna Stricklen and Glory Johnson are both posting 13.6 points per contest. Johnson has also grabbed 9.9 boards.
Teams have found it tough to score against LSU as the Lady Tigers' scoring defense has moved up to seventh in the nation after holding an SEC opponent to 55 points or less for a school-record eighth time on Thursday. LSU allows only 52.3 points per game and the Lady Tigers have held all 14 SEC opponents under their scoring average.
Senior guard Latear Eason is coming off a 15-point game, one shy of a career-high. Taylor Turnbow drained a game-tying jumper with 3.2 seconds left in regulation against South Carolina. The two make up the usual starting lineup along with Katherine Graham, LaSondra Barrett and Adrienne Webb. Despite a tough performance on Thursday, Webb still leads LSU in scoring with 12.5 ppg.
Tennessee leads the all-time series with LSU, 40-12, including three straight victories in the series. The Lady Vols won on Jan. 2 in Baton Rouge earlier this season but LSU did hold Tennessee to its second-smallest margin of victory in SEC play in a 73-65 contest. The Lady Tigers have won two of their last three games in Thompson-Boling Arena.