'Win From Within': Women's Basketball Preview
Caldwell, 2012-13 LSU Lady Tigers Aim For Another March Run
It didn't take long for LSU head coach Nikki Caldwell to transform the attitude of the program back to one that is accustomed to winning in March. Year two of the Caldwell era has arrived and six returning letterwinners are poised for another Southeastern Conference and NCAA Tournament run.
"The theme for this year is you win from within," said Caldwell, who led LSU to 23 wins a year ago. "Make sure every day we do our very best. The accountability factor will be there. Each player has to take ownership of the outcome of every practice and every game. We want to make sure it's their game to play and their championship to go after."
After guiding LSU to the NCAA Tournament in her first season, Caldwell and the 2012-13 Lady Tigers aim to build on their recent success. Gone are five seniors, including All-Southeastern Conference forward LaSondra Barrett, but the Lady Tigers welcome the return of a talented backcourt led by senior guards Adrienne Webb and Bianca Lutley and junior guard Jeanne Kenney.
One year into her system, Caldwell says you can expect to see plenty of toughness and creativity on both sides of the floor from this team.
"Toughness runs through our team," she said. "You are going to see that this year. The leadership is there. We have lost a lot of our scoring and our defense. We are going to have to be creative on how we defend the basketball this year. We are still going to look to establish our running game, our inside-outside attack and win some basketball games."
LSU will rely heavily on an experienced backcourt that features three returning starters in seniors Adrienne Webb and Bianca Lutley and junior Jeanne Kenney. Webb, one of the fittest and hardest working players in the nation, is LSU's leading returning scorer after averaging 9.9 points per game a season ago. Webb carried the Lady Tigers to the 2012 SEC Tournament championship game, draining a game-winning three in the waning seconds against Arkansas in the quarterfinal. She produced three consecutive double-figure scoring games and was named to the SEC All-Tournament Team.
Webb has worked diligently this offseason and preseason on becoming a better student of the game while enhancing her leadership qualities.
"We are ready and are hungry," said the Madison, Ala., native. "For me personally, I have worked on becoming a better student of the game by watching more film. I wanted to see why certain things happen in a game, why this player was open, why that cut was made. It's paying more attention to detail. Last year, we had five seniors who were great leaders. This program has always had a legacy of great leaders, and I want to take on that role since this is my last year at LSU."
Caldwell calls Webb one of the three hardest working players she has ever coached. The senior ranks sixth in LSU career made threes with 123 and she is nearing the 1,000-point mark for her career.
"Adrienne Webb has really set the bar high for this team to practice at her level of intensity," said Caldwell.
Kenney, a 5-foot-8 junior from Baton Rouge, had to assume the point guard position for most of her sophomore campaign after Destini Hughes suffered a season-ending knee injury at Tennessee on Jan. 19. She will make the move more off the ball this season to her natural shooting guard position. Kenney is LSU's active leader in assists with 120, and she hopes to build upon her 5.6 per game scoring average from a year ago.
"Jeanne has answered the call that has been placed upon her," said Caldwell. "It is interesting to see her off the ball now. We can run screens for her because the kid can shoot the basketball. Last year she had to sacrifice some of her game in order to run the point. This year we expect her to be an offensive threat."
With Kenney moving back to shooting guard, LSU will rely on two true freshmen with great ball handling skills at point guard. Danielle Ballard, a 5-foot-9 guard from Memphis, Tenn., begins her first season with the Lady Tigers with an impressive set of credentials. The dynamic scorer was tabbed as the No. 25 overall prospect in the country by ESPN Hoop Gurlz. As a junior, she led Memphis Central High School to its first state championship in 89 years, and she was invited to compete at the USA Basketball U17 Team Trials in the summer 2011.
Fellow freshman Kuaneshia "Coco" Baker was the Louisiana High School Gatorade Player of the Year at Helen Cox High School last season. Considered one of the top guard prospects in the country, Baker put up spectacular numbers, averaging 25.0 points, 9.7 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game.
"I am extremely pleased with the progression of our first year (players)," said Caldwell. "They have really been great followers. We have leaders, but you also have to have great followers."
LSU's top penetrator to the basket returns in senior guard Bianca Lutley. Lutley, one of two seniors on the squad, stepped up her game in the 2012 postseason. Lutley had eight points apiece and quality minutes in the Lady Tigers' SEC Tournament semifinal and championship games. She then responded with her first career double-double against Penn State in the NCAA Tournament second round with 14 points and 10 boards.
The other guard on the roster is Anne Pedersen, a 6-foot-1 shooter from Copenhagen, Denmark. Pedersen redshirted as a true freshman after injuring her left knee during the 2011 preseason.
"Anne (Pedersen) has been a great addition to our team," said Caldwell. "Last year when she sat out she was very positive on the bench and very much involved. I am very pleased to see how she has bounced back from the knee injury. She has been one of our top guards as far as conditioning."
One of LSU's biggest challenges will be replacing the size and scoring of departed seniors LaSondra Barrett and Courtney Jones. However, several returning faces and an incoming freshman seek to fill the void. They have shown the capability to do so in offseason workouts and preseason practices.
Theresa Plaisance enters her junior year with high expectations. At 6-foot-5, she possesses the shooting touch most players her size lack around the country. Plaisance, who switched to her high school number of 55 in the offseason, can score inside and drain the jumper. When Barrett went down to a concussion in the SEC Championship Game against Tennessee last season, it was Plaisance who stepped up, scoring a season-high 13 points. She went on to put in 10 points and bury two threes to give LSU a chance down the stretch against Penn State in the NCAA Tournament second round.
"We are going to run our offense, and give Theresa (Plaisance) great looks," said Caldwell. "She just has to knock down shots, which is what she does best. She is so versatile in her ability to score the basketball. You can move her away from the basket because she has a three-point threat. You can put her inside where she is very skilled at going left or right."
Plaisance says she is ready for the challenge ahead.
"This season, I hope to pick up a lot more responsibilities than in years past. I'm definitely going to be more of a scoring threat. I've also been working on my defense, so you'll see more stops from me on the defensive end."
Shanece McKinney brings experience to the post as well. The 6-foot-4 center started five games as a sophomore and will see considerable more minutes this season. Sophomore forward Sheila Boykin has had a tremendous offseason.
"Sheila Boykin is one of those players that is always in the right place at the right time," said Caldwell. "We are expecting big things from her."
Derreyal Youngblood, a 6-foot-4 true freshman, completes the front court for the Lady Tigers. Youngblood led John Curtis High School to the 2012 Class 2A state championship last spring, and she was named MVP for her efforts, averaging 15.5 points per game. Youngblood racked up 10 points, 16 rebounds and four blocked shots in the state title game.
"Derreyal Youngblood has really shown progress in practice so expect big things from her as well," said Caldwell. "She gives us great size and a scoring threat on the block."