BATON ROUGE – The LSU women’s basketball team attempted to mount one of those comebacks of epic proportions against the No. 10 Tennessee, but the 21-point first half margin was just too large a hill to climb as the Lady Vols escaped with the 72-67 decision Thursday at the Maravich Center.
LSU (18-10, 7-8 SEC) was able to knot the score at 59-59 at the 3:28 mark of the second half, but Tennessee (23-5, 12-3 SEC) knocked down critical buckets followed by late game free throws to tuck away the five-point win.
“They can’t leave here tonight with their heads down because their true character came out,” head coach Nikki Caldwell said. “They showed themselves, they showed the fans that they have this fight in them and they have less quit in them. We could have folded, but they didn’t. They didn’t because they started believing. They believed in each other, our system and taking it one possession at a time. They didn’t fast forward. They stayed in the moment. It would have been just an unbelievable victory to come back from that deficit the way we would have come back. We did see players with a lot more emotion. We saw players all about each other. We saw players rooting for each other even when they weren’t on the court. I saw a team outwork their opponent in the second half. It was a great battle.”
The Lady Tigers couldn’t find a way to stop an opening half rush by the Lady Vols and dropped their fifth consecutive game heading into Sunday’s regular season finale at Alabama.
Kenney drained five of her nine field goal attempts fueled by a trio of three-pointers en route to 17 of her team-leading 21 points after halftime. The Baton Rouge native also notched five steals, four rebound and three assists.
Plaisance picked up her seventh double-double of the season with 20 points and 11 rebounds. Making her second straight start, DaShawn Harden garnered 10 points. The trio of Harden, Kenney and Plaisance accounted for 51 of LSU’s 67 points.
LSU’s bench effort was led by Rina Hill’s balanced effort of seven points, three assists, three steals and three rebounds over 22 minutes of action.
“Rina Hill has grown up so much,” Caldwell said. “She stepped up and played aggressively and played with a lot of heart. She played tough. She’s just going to be great. We’re so fortunate to have Rina Hill here with us. She’s such an unbelievable person.”
Tennessee was sparked by Meighan Simmons, Cierra Burdick and Isabelle Harrison who provided 62 of UT’s 72 points. Simmons put together a 31-point outing and hit 11-of-18 from the floor aided by five treys. Burdick tacked on 22 points and 10 rebounds, while Harrison garnered 11 points and 11 rebounds.
For the game, LSU shot 36.1 percent (22-of-61) from the field with six three-pointers and bounced back from a 6-for-27 effort in the opening half. Tennessee, which made 17-of-34 in the first half, finished up with 24-of-52 performance and also made six treys. LSU was out rebounded 43-31 for the contest.
The Lady Vols pushed out quickly to a 12-2 lead by the first media timeout and had the advantage out to a 15-point margin at 23-8 with 9:27 left. Simmons and Burdick did the majority of the damage in scoring a combined 34 points which included a 12-6 edge off turnovers and an 8-0 advantage on second chance points. Tennessee would carry a 42-21 advantage into the locker room.
In the second half, LSU controlled the turnovers committing only one while forcing 11 out of Tennessee which helped fuel the comeback effort.
The Lady Tigers ripped off the six points of the stanza on a jumper by Harden, a free throw by Danielle Ballard and a three-pointer by Plaisance that closed the UT to 42-27 and forcing Tennessee to call a time out at the 17:26 mark.
LSU continued to get stops and buckets as Harden and McKinney both got kisses off the window to cut the Tennessee advantage down to 47-35 with 14:30 left.
Trailing 57-45 with 7:28 to play, LSU ripped off 14 of the next 16 points over the next 3:36 to draw even at 59-59. The run was ignited as the Lady Tigers connected a pair of Hill free throws and a Plaisance bank shoot to get back into single digits.
After two Tennessee free throws, Kenney buried her second trey to cut it to 59-52. She would drain another triple from the corner followed by a Harden layup off a turnover to put the tally within two points at 59-57 with 4:35 sitting on the clock.
The Lady Tigers tied the score at 59-59 on two Kenney free throws 67 seconds later. On the ensuing possession, Tennessee got a key offensive rebound from Simmons who appeared to double dribble. Then, Simmons was issued two free throws on a foul call on Harden. She converted on both shots and placed Tennessee back ahead 61-59 at the 2:37 mark.
LSU kept the score within two points at 63-61 and 65-63. However, Simmons answered for the Lady Vols with a driving layup and deep trey on the left wing. The three-pointer came with 57.1 seconds remaining to vault Tennessee up 68-63 which ended LSU’s chances for an amazing comeback victory. The Lady Vols knocked down 4-of-6 at the line inside the final minute to secure the 72-67 win.
“I thought we had some good defensive stops, and I thought we had some play calls that could have went our way,” Caldwell said. “You can dissect the game, but it’s tough to come back from 20. Plaisance had to play 40 minutes. We had two post players in foul trouble in the second half. She played tough. We’re going to turn the corner. I saw a different team tonight. Although we were down 20 in the first half, I saw a different team tonight.”
LSU concludes the regular season with a Sunday matinee at Alabama. Tip time is slated for 1 p.m., and the game will carried by the affiliates of SEC-TV and www.WatchESPN.com. The LSU Sports Radio Network will broadcast the game on Talk 107.3 FM in Baton Rouge and inside the Geaux Zone at www.LSUsports.net/live. Patrick Wright, the voice of the Lady Tigers, will have the radio call.
For all of the latest news and information on Lady Tiger basketball, visit www.lsusports.net/womensbasketball. Fans can also follow the program on its social media outlets at www.Facebook.com/lsuwbkb along with @lsuwbkb and @NikkiCaldwell on Twitter.
LSU Head Coach Nikki Caldwell
“If you said that we were going to play this game of basketball for 30 minutes, we’d probably be undefeated. This team has it in them, and they have resilience about themselves. They have competitiveness about themselves, and they have a determination about themselves. It showed in the second half, and it showed that we were a team that never gives up. It showed a team that was able to comeback from adversity and put themselves in a position to win. We’re going to focus in on that.”
On Rina Hill’s contributions to the team …
“Rina Hill has grown up so much. She stepped up and played aggressively and played with a lot of heart. She played tough. She’s just going to be great. We’re so fortunate to have Rina Hill here with us. She’s such an unbelievable person.”
On the “sweat equity” the team put into tonight’s game …
“They can’t leave here tonight with their heads down because their true character came out. They showed themselves, they showed the fans that they have this fight in them and they have less quit in them. We could have folded, but they didn’t. They didn’t because they started believing. They believed in each other, our system and taking it one possession at a time. They didn’t fast forward. They stayed in the moment. It would have been just an unbelievable victory to come back from that deficit the way we would have come back. We did see players with a lot more emotion. We saw players all about each other. We saw players rooting for each other even when they weren’t on the court. I saw a team outwork their opponent in the second half. It was a great battle.”
On the final minutes of the game…
“I thought we had some good defensive stops, and I thought we had some play calls that could have went our way. You can dissect the game, but it’s tough to come back from 20. Plaisance had to play 40 minutes. We had two post players in foul trouble in the second half. She played tough. We’re going to turn the corner. I saw a different team tonight. Although we were down 20 in the first half, I saw a different team tonight.”
On using tonight’s game to the team’s advantage when it travels to Alabama…
“Alabama is very good. They’re extremely good at home. They have guards that can shoot the basketball. We’re going to have to take our intensity and apply it on the defensive end. We disrupted a very good offensive team in Tennessee. We did a very good job of keeping a very good offensive team off the glass in the second half. We turned them over 20-plus times. That’s what we need to bring with us to Alabama. We’ve got to defend, and we’ve got to rebound the basketball. I saw a team believe in that, and that’s what got us back into the game. I think this team can make up their minds and go into Alabama with hard-nosed defense for 40 minutes. It’s really a choice and an attitude. They possessed it tonight. They have it in them. We have to get it at the start. We’re going to show them why they were successful so they can carry it over into Sunday.”
LSU PLAYER POST GAME QUOTES
F THERESA PLAISANCE
On tonight’s second half against No. 10 Tennessee…
“We came out in the second half and didn’t have anything to lose. We had our pride at stake and a lot of things at stake. Coming out, we just had to take it one possession at a time. Coach (Caldwell) really emphasized taking it one possession at a time. We came down and made sure to get a score on offense. After the possession was over, we got a stop on defense. We literally took it one possession at a time and focused on one thing at a time. It worked out for us. We started knocking down shots. Jeanne (Kenney) did a great job of getting open for us and nailing some very crucial shots. Rina (Hill) did a great job tonight offensively and defensively. She did an amazing job locking up their point guard and challenging their point guard to make some tough plays. DaShawn (Harden) did a great job on Meighan Simmons. Meighan Simmons is one of the top guards in the SEC. DaShawn did a great job of not letting her get those shots like she got in the first half. I couldn’t be more proud of the effort and heart this group showed in the second half. They really put it all out there, and that is all I can ask.”
G JEANNE KENNEY
On LSU’s momentum during the second half…
“We came together, and that is something I haven’t seen in a long time. I am proud of how we did come back. A win is nice, but I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. We had a great run. What spurred that run was taking it one possession at a time. In the huddle, we said get the stop then convert. That was it. That is all we had to say, and we did that.”
On LSU’s hustle and causing 21 turnovers for Tennessee…
“Those are called “pep” plays - positive energy plays. That got us going. We had a lot of plays like that. Rina Hill came in and killed it with pep plays. She was amazing second half. She was ready to go when her opportunity came. I was very proud of her. We had Shanece (McKinney) emotional and pumping us up. You don’t see that very often. She is a stone-faced player. To see that emotion from her and Theresa, it makes me enjoy the game and smile. The fans did an amazing job. I am very proud of our fans. I couldn’t have asked for anything else.”
TENNESSEE HEAD COACH HOLLY WARLICK
On the strong first half even with foul trouble…
“I thought everyone came in and contributed. We did – we had three of our post players who had two fouls early. I thought everybody came in – Nia (Moore) got some good minutes. I just thought we hung tough. I thought our press was very, very good. It slowed them up. They turned it over. We got great looks. We played hard. Our defense was so solid. It was solid, and it was a quality first half for us.”
On the second half coming down to the wire…
“It did, and I knew (Jeanne) Kenney and (Theresa) Plaisance – they were going to get rolling. They were one and done in the first half, and that’s what we wanted to do. We wanted to take a shot, make sure we boxed out and got one shot. We came down, and we started playing a little conservative – a little hesitant down here on the end. The flow of the game – the second half was just very interesting.”
On Meighan Simmons and Cierra Burdick contributing strong in the first half…
“I tell you – Meighan hit big shots. That three right here was huge. It just separated us, and the game was kind of over. She did some really good things. But I’m going to tell you something – this is Cierra Burdick’s probably best game she’s played, most competitive. She was an unbelievable, unbelievable leader for us. She’s getting them pumped up on the defensive end, getting everybody to stay in to it, hit big shots I thought on the offensive end and got big rebounds. I thought she was just tremendous. She stayed in the game – I just can’t say enough about how much she did for this team today.”
On LSU’s offense penetrating in the second half…
“Yeah – they did, and we got into a little bit of foul trouble. When they penetrate and they get a foul on you, you have a tendency to back up. That’s what we did. But we gave (Jeanne) Kenney a shot in the corner. We’re in a zone, and we know she’s there. We just did – we had some mental breakdowns that we didn’t have in the first half. I don’t know if we got a little satisfied that we were up. This team is really a tough team to hold a lead. We get a lead, and we get relaxed. I thought – like you said – coming out the first four minutes we needed to get busy, and we didn’t.”
On Andraya Carter’s contributions…
“I think Andraya got good looks, but they just didn’t go down. She played – she’s such a good defender for us, and I thought that block was huge. I’m glad the whistle didn’t get blown because I thought it was a good, clean block. I thought that she was solid. We did some overall good things. We just kind of let up. We have to get past that point.”
On Isabelle Harrison having a rough first half and a strong second half…
“Yeah – I think she was a little affected by the first half. I mean – she’s sitting – I don’t know the point she went out, but I thought she competed the second half. What she didn’t have when we passed it in – she got unbelievable rebounds. What did she have 11 rebounds, and they were huge. Those rebounds led to her points and us scoring. If I’m not mistaken, I think she shot the ball pretty well from the free throw line as well. Those 11 points were huge for us because they came at a critical time.”
On what it would mean for her team in the SEC Tournament to knock off South Carolina Sunday…
“It would be huge for us. I mean, we’re looking at an NCAA seeding. That’s our goal right now. We didn’t win the regular season so nothing we can do about that. I tell you – we talked a lot about that today. It’s all about how you’re going to get seeded in the NCAA, and that’s what we’re playing for. That’s why we came out, and that’s what we’re going to do when we play South Carolina on Sunday. It’s all about seeding, and we have to take care of business.”
Tennessee Player Quotes
Guard Meighan Simmons
On her buckets at the end…
“The coaches just told us to attack and really I wasn’t thinking anything. I was just thinking about scoring. Our coaches wanted us to score and get a stop. They were big shots, but I thank the coaches for just being confident in me. I just hit those shots.”
On her driving layup late in the second half …
“Coach (Warlick) just called out drag, and I just went off the screen. I saw Bashaara (Graves) screening out, and I just went to the basket. We needed to score, and I was just glad I had the opportunity to score at that time.”
On what coach told them during the last time out …
“She just told us not let up, and keep the intensity going. Cierra, (Burdick) who was leading us the whole game, was just telling us that we need to stick together – to get stops. We knew we needed to get to the free throw line, and we knew we had to make free throws. So, it was really just keeping our intensity up.”
Forward Cierra Burdick
On the second half…
“I think we let the offense effect our defense in the second half. We weren’t hitting shots coming out of halftime and that effected our defense. We can’t let that happen. They came out, and they played hard. We knew they weren’t going to go away. They are a great basketball team. They came out and hit some huge shots. They got the momentum, got the crowd into it and they had the home court advantage. We had to get crucial stops at the right time, and we managed to do that.”
Guard Andraya Carter
On keeping their composure…
“I definitely think it was a big deal that we just kept grinding. I think a lot of times a team would fold. When you have such a good lead to end the first half, and it just starts to slip away and slip away – a team would let it go. I’m super proud of our team. We stayed together. All of our huddles were positive. Everything we were saying to each other was positive, and I think that was a really big deal. The fact that we just grinded out and got the win. We got stops when we needed to, hit shots when we needed to, hit free throws and got the win. I think it’s a big deal because we will have close games in the (SEC & NCAA) tournament.”