Caldwell, Lady Tigers Square Off Against Lady Vols
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - The LSU women's basketball team and head coach Nikki Caldwell, a former player and assistant coach at Tennessee for six seasons, goes up against Pat Summitt's ninth-ranked Lady Vols as the Lady Tigers seek to rebound from its first Southeastern Conference loss at 6 p.m. CT Thursday in what is expected to be a packed crowd in Thompson-Boling Arena.
Another chapter in the LSU-Tennessee rivalry will be televised live by Comcast Sports Southeast (CSS). Fans in Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Lafayette can watch the game on Cox 4. The contest will be streamed on www.ESPN3.com. Cox Sports Television (CST) will air the game tape-delayed on Friday at 2:30 p.m. It will also be broadcast on the LSU Sports Radio Network on 107.3 FM in Baton Rouge and to members of the Geaux Zone on LSUsports.net/live.
Both LSU (13-4, 4-1 SEC) and Tennessee (13-4, 4-1) sit in a three-way tie with Georgia for second place in the league standings through five games. The Lady Tigers have won 10 of their last 11 contests but saw a 10-game winning streak come to an end last time out in a 62-58 loss at Florida on Sunday. LSU trailed by 14 points with six minutes left in the game before scoring 12 unanswered and having a chance to tie.
The Lady Vols feature four double-figure scorers led by All-Americans Shekinna Stricklen and Glory Johnson, who are averaging 15.5 and 14.5 points per game, respectively. Johnson adds 9.9 rebounds per contest to her repertoire. Tennessee pulled away from Vanderbilt, 87-74, on Sunday after losing its first SEC contest in the final seconds to No. 8 Kentucky, 61-60, on Jan. 12 in Lexington.
Caldwell, a native of nearby Oak Ridge, Tenn., is facing her former coach and mentor in Summitt for the second time in her career. UCLA visited Knoxville and lost in Caldwell's second season with the Bruins.
Caldwell played for the Lady Vols from 1990-94 and later spent six seasons as an assistant coach for Summitt from 2002-08. Thursday's game is part of the SEC's "We Back Pat" initiative, raising awareness and recognition to the Pat Summitt Foundation in the fight against Alzheimer's disease.
"From a competitive side, I never would have played and been successful at Tennessee if you didn't look at every opponent like you wanted to beat them," said Caldwell. "I contribute that competitive spirit to Coach Summitt and her staff. The first thing I learned was to respect everybody and that there is a loyalty to your staff, team and yourself.
"When we played at Tennessee at UCLA, I remember telling our team what a great opportunity this was. If you can play there in that hostile environment, it will only help you down the road. We were young and weren't as big, but we came in there ready to win a basketball game. That's the attitude that you have to have."
Caldwell's staff is also comprised of three coaches with Tennessee ties. Assistant coach Tony Perotti was a practice player with the Lady Vols and graduate from UT in 1999. Assistant coach Tasha Butts played for Summitt from 2000-04 and was a graduate assistant. Director of video operations Angel Elderkin served as video coordinator for the Lady Vols from 2005-07.
LSU is led by senior forward LaSondra Barrett, who produced her second double-double of the season with 17 points and 11 rebounds. Barrett became the 17th all-time leading scorer in LSU history against the Gators and she is averaging a team-high 12.5 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. Senior point guard Destini Hughes tallied six straight games of nine points or better as she continues to efficiently run the offense.
"It's going to be a game where our team has to understand that it's simply LSU versus Tennessee," said Caldwell. "It's not about myself and Coach Summitt. It will be a tough battle where we have to be equally as a tough as Tennessee because that's Tennessee. They are a team that runs and gets on the glass and we have to defend that action."
Defensively, LSU has held six straight opponents under 40 percent shooting. The Lady Tigers have led the SEC the entire season in field goal percentage defense, holding opponents to 30.3 percent shooting.
Tennessee leads the all-time series with LSU 41-12, including four straight wins in the series. The Lady Tigers are seeking their first win over Tennessee since a 63-61 win in Baton Rouge on Feb. 26, 2009. UT leads the series, 18-2 all-time in Knoxville.
Following Thursday's contest, LSU returns home and will host Arkansas at 2 p.m. CT Sunday in its "We Back Pat" contest. LSU "We Back Pat" t-shirts are now on sale at LSUshop.net with proceeds going directly to the Pat Summitt Foundation. The first 1,000 fans in attendance on Sunday receive a free Lady Tiger yo-yo. Talented halftime act "Red Panda" will perform once again in the Maravich Center.