SPOKANE, Wash. – A day after one of the most thrilling victories in school history that sent the LSU women’s basketball team to its first Sweet 16 since 2008, the Lady Tigers boarded a charter flight and flew four hours to Spokane, Wash., on Thursday evening to begin preparations for their regional semifinal opponent, the No. 2 seed and sixth-ranked California Golden Bears.
After finishing off No. 3 seed Penn State, 71-66 in a game that ended close to 11 p.m. CT, head coach Nikki Caldwell gave the team a day off from practice on Wednesday. The Lady Tigers, school officials and the LSU band and cheerleaders took a charter flight from Baton Rouge and arrived in Spokane at approximately 9 p.m. Pacific time.
With their team hotel just a few miles from the arena, LSU spent Thursday morning watching a film session on Cal in what will be the first meeting between the two teams since a 65-56 Lady Tiger win on Dec. 17, 1982 in the Giusti Tournament in Portland, Ore. On Thursday afternoon, LSU was scheduled to go through a two-hour practice at McCarthy Arena on the campus of Gonzaga.
“They are a very experienced team,” said Caldwell, who was 6-1 against the Golden Bears at UCLA. “They are a team that has been playing together for a long time. They have a balanced attack. When you look at their ability to score the basketball, they have inside-out play. They do a tremendous job of getting on the boards. They are out-rebounding their opponents by plus-11. That’s going to be a challenge for us and we’ve got to make sure and answer that challenge.”
Junior guard Jeanne Kenney, who missed the Penn State contest after suffering a head injury in the first round, was cleared to fly with the team and she did make the trip. She is day-to-day in her recovery.
“It’s going to be day-to-day and we’re going to take all the necessary precautions to make sure she recovers 100 percent,” said Caldwell. “Everyone is going to wishful and hopeful that Jeanne is able to return to us.”
Junior forward Theresa Plaisance said the team was not just satisfied with making the Sweet 16 and that they have bigger aspirations.
“We are going to do our best to keep this going,” she said. “We have a special group of seniors. The heart of this team is bigger than anyone can measure.”
LSU will take a streak of seven straight regional semifinal victories into Saturday night’s contest, which tips at 10:32 p.m. CT live on ESPN2 and ESPN3.com. The Lady Tigers are back on the national stage thanks in large part to senior guard Adrienne Webb, who poured in a career-high 29 points in her final career home game.
“The program is going in the right direction,” said Webb. “Our heart is as big as those teams who are ranked No. 1. It all comes down to heart and effort. Coach (Caldwell) has total confidence in us. She always gives us a game plan that is top notch. She puts us in a position to succeed.”
Friday will be LSU’s official NCAA practice day at Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena. Caldwell, Plaisance and Webb will meet with members of the local and national media at 3:45 p.m. local time followed by interviews with ESPN. Dave Pasch, Debbie Antonelli and LaChina Robinson will call the game.
LSU will be the last team to take the floor in practice on Friday, doing so from 4:30-6 p.m. local time. The Lady Tigers will follow Cal and familiar Southeastern Conference opponent Georgia, who is staying a block away from LSU.
A transcript of Coach Caldwell’s media briefing from Wednesday is below:
Nikki Caldwell Media Session – Wednesday, March 27, 2013
Familiarity with California and test they will provide –
“Well I’m very familiar with this Cal team. Some of the players I remember recruiting when I was at UCLA. They are a very experienced team. They are a team that has been playing together for a long time. They have a balanced attack. When you look at their ability to score the basketball, they have inside out play. But they do a tremendous job of getting on the boards. They are outrebounding their opponents by plus-11. That’s going to be a challenge for us and we’ve got to make sure and answer that challenge.”
Rotation for your bigs …
“We will have to play our bigs. We have better rebounding coverage when we do have two bigs in there. I’d like to play Derreyal Youngblood. She gave us that physical presence that we needed. Shanece McKinney came back and did some nice things. But those two scored the ball. When you have Theresa Plaisance who struggled to score the ball, that’s something you don’t want to have happen on a consistent basis, but I liked the fact that those two stepped up and scored the ball for us.”
6 seeds all beating 3 seeds in second round … Does that speak to the parity of the game?
“It is definitely parity. I think there are a lot of great players out there that are left who didn’t want their season to end. When you look at teams like ours, I know that Webb and Lutley did not want this to be their last game. I’m sure that’s the feeling for a lot of the athletes that are still competing.”
Can team rebound from an emotional high like this?
“I believe we are centered. I feel like we are a more mature team where we have had to … When you look at the SEC schedule we had the big Monday with Texas A&M, Thursday we have Tennessee and Sunday we had Georgia. So we’ve been prepared for those games when you have to go back-to-back-to-back and play some of the best teams in the country. That gave us that tournament feel during that run obviously. This team understands that we have a lot of work to do and we are not just happy to be going to the Sweet 16. We have an opportunity to again to put LSU back on the map on a big-time way and our destination is to get back here in New Orleans.”
Jeanne Kenney’s status for the trip…
“It’s going to be day-to-day but she is cleared to travel and we’re going to take all the necessary precautions to make sure she recovers 100 percent. But again, if we are able to go with Jeanne, we are going to. If not, we’ll be faced with 7 again. They’ve shown that through their determination and their effort, they are capable. But everyone is going to wishful and hopeful that Jeanne is able to return to us.”
Has to help that you are familiar with scenarios like this during season …
“Well our team, the team took on a different persona. They knew that they all had to step up and no one could hide. Players did. Anne Pedersen came in and gave us some good minutes and played scouting report defense. But this time of year your big time players have to come to play. There are some big-time players on our roster and it’s going to really boil down to who is going to execute their game plan ... It is going to be a different test for Adrienne Webb and Bianca Lutley. We are not at home. We are on the road. At a neutral site but we not in the comfort of our LSU fans and our community that allowed us to play in front of them. They were tremendous in being there and cheering for our team. Our team really rallied around that.”
Are they a defensive oriented team based on looking at the stats…
“They do a great job of disrupting the basketball. Their guard play is pretty strong. They have players that can really guard one-on-one. The one thing about Cal is their ability to rebound the basketball. They do a good job of controlling the tempo of the game. We’ve got to be patient with our offensive attack; share the basketball and shot selection is important for us.”
About California’s Lyshia Clarendon …
“Anytime she has the basketball she is good. Whenever you see a player like Clarendon that has evolved and expanded her game … She’s very good off the bounce. Her mid-range game is her bread and butter, but she has the ability to knock down the three-pointer. You can run her at the 1, 2 or 3. Her versatility is pretty good too. Her agility, left, right, her quickness. She has all of that so yes, we are going to have a challenge in guarding Clarendon.”
About California’s Talia Caldwell …
“Caldwell is going to be more of that power player who is going to, if you allow her to, make a living on the offensive boards because she is good about getting on the glass for them. She also can pass and score the basketball. So we have to be aware of her skill set. Her counterpart in (Gennifer) Brandon is more athletic, very agile post player who can run the floor and does a great job on the defensive end and can rebound. Those complement each other in a big-time way.”
“Anytime we play a team that likes to get out in transition, we want to make sure we are eliminating those easy baskets. We’ve faced teams that like to run the basketball and one of those was last night against Penn State. Transition defense is going to be key. All three of their guards can get the ball off the glass and go.”