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Photo by:Steve Franz, LSU Athletics Staff Photographer
Caldwell Previews SEC Tournament
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Published: February 28, 2012, 04:45 PM (CT)
by Bill Martin (@LSUBillMartin), Associate SID

BATON ROUGE -- After guiding LSU to its first 20-win regular season since 2010, LSU head coach Nikki Caldwell met with members of the media on Tuesday to preview the 2012 Southeastern Conference Tournament, which gets underway on Thursday in Nashville's Bridgestone Arena.

The Lady Tigers have drawn a first round bye and the No. 4 seed for the tournament and will face the winner of No. 5 seed Arkansas-No. 12 seed Ole Miss at 6:30 p.m. CT Friday in the quarterfinals televised live by Fox Sports Net and ESPN3.com. Arkansas and Ole Miss face off on day one at 6:30 p.m. CT Thursday.

LSU will depart for Nashville mid-day Wednesday and practice that night in Bridgestone Arena. The Lady Tigers have garnered the four seed for the sixth time since the tournament's current format dating back to 1986. One of those years was 1991, when LSU claimed its first SEC Tournament title with Caldwell on the opposing bench - as a freshman player for the Tennessee Lady Vols.

Caldwell will make her debut as a head coach at the SEC Tournament, a place where she has had great success as both an assistant coach and player. In 11 appearances as both a player and assistant coach, Caldwell was 24-5 with Tennessee and a member of six SEC Tournament titles. Her last appearance in the SEC Tournament was 2008 when Tennessee defeated LSU for the title.

Caldwell and the Lady Tigers have put themselves in excellent position of earning an NCAA Tournament berth. LSU is hosting the first and second rounds on March 18 and 20, respectively, in the Maravich Center. Tickets for the NCAA Tournament are on sale now at LSUtix.net.

Here are quotes from Caldwell's media session on Tuesday:

HEAD COACH NIKKI CALDWELL

On the team's mentality heading into the SEC Tournament ...
"Our mentality is to prepare this week and for us to be better. So, we don't know who's going to come out of the bracket, and we've played both opponents and we've been successful with both opponents. We've watched all the film. We wanted to break down and see what we've done correctly, where we struggled and where we were most challenged, and our practices will be based on that. We're extremely excited to get the bye. We're excited that we're in a situation where we only have three games as opposed to four because we're a little banged up right now. When you look at the minutes that our starters play, especially Jeanne Kenney, LaSondra Barrett, and Courtney Jones, having an extra day definitely helps us."

On the loss against Georgia being a bump in the road ...
"It depends on how we respond. I'm going to definitely challenge them today at practice. I felt like Georgia came to play a very inspired basketball game. I don't feel like we had the same intensity that we did at home against Vanderbilt. Georgia is a well-coached team. A team that has a lot of great players on there that can score from the perimeter and can score inside, and that's what we're going to see. I didn't feel like we accepted the challenge and we hope that we will learn from that and understand how competitive this conference is and that you cannot just take a day off when you want to."

On improving scoring ...
"I've challenged Jeanne Kenney and Bianca Lutley because we cannot run LaSondra Barrett at the point guard 35 percent of her minutes. We've got to be able to move her in that situation some of the time to give relief to them, but not for her to be our primary ball handler. I felt in the Georgia game, we had to do that. Those two have got to respond in a big way, in a hurry, because as we all know, you go as your guards go."

On the overall intensity of postseason play ...
"Opportunity, there's a great opportunity in front of us. This is the most wide open that I've seen the SEC Tournament in a long time when you can look at Alabama almost beating us, and then Alabama having that win against Kentucky. You talk about the one through eight. You've got eight teams whose RPI are under 40. So, this is a very competitive conference, and there's no clear cut winner but everyone is going to be hungry to continue to play another game and another game to get to that championship game on Sunday. The enthusiasm is surrounding not only our team, but it's filtering into our fans. They're extremely excited, and we travel well. So, I think with this group, with us having five seniors, what better way to go out than to lay it on the line and get yourself to the SEC Championship game."

On not making the NCAA Tournament last year ...
"They remember, and you definitely want your team to remember not seeing their name called on that Selection Monday showing. I feel like this team body's work has spoken for itself and has definitely put them in a position to be a high seed, but we definitely don't want to leave anything to chance. So, if you win that SEC Championship, you know you're automatically in."

On hosting the first and second round of the NCAA Tournament ...
"It's a great opportunity for us to be here hosting and hopefully playing here, but it's also great for our fans, who have been with us every step of the way. Our fan base has been amazing. When you have a fan base that will provide a tunnel for you right before you are coming out to the game, and they're screaming and high fiving our team, you can feel that energy coming into our play. This is a city that has really supported women's basketball for a long, long time. So, it's definitely an honor to be a part of the NCAA Tournament and to be hosting."

On injuries among the team ...
"Well, we've been taking along carefully Krystal Forthan and Swayze Black through all of this. LaSondra Barrett has some nicks and knacks, but nothing that should stop them. Jeanne Kenney has been banged up probably for a while now, but she's toughing through it. These couple of days will give us a chance to rest. Not having to go four games to get to the championship game obviously helps us as well. As we all know, we're not heavy at the guard play, so they log a lot of minutes, and that game that they don't have to play on Thursday helps us as well."
 
On Destini Hughes' help on the bench ...
"She has really helped LaSondra, and LaSondra went and sought out Destini's advice. Destini, being a point guard and having a feel for the game, she can bring her knowledge to the game. Obviously, physically we can't have her out there on the floor, but I do think her mentality and how much she cares about this team is nothing but a positive for her. If I had to give credit where credit is due, she's obviously hit adversity being a senior, but she and Anne Pedersen have been unbelievable on the bench. Just their support, how much they celebrate and their positive energy that they give this team has been great."

 

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