BATON ROUGE -- A pioneer, she influenced countless lives both on and off the floor of the programs that will face each other in the season-opener. She built LSU women’s basketball into the powerhouse it is today and did so with character, conviction and respect.
On Friday at 7 p.m., LSU begins its 39th season of women’s basketball and will pay tribute to its late legendary coach Sue Gunter with the playing of the Sue Gunter Classic in the first round of the preseason WNIT against Stephen F. Austin in the Maravich Center.
“She represented excellence and she was an ambassador for our game,” said LSU head coach Nikki Caldwell, who begins her third season. “She shaped so many student-athletes lives. She believed in hard work. She believed in getting a great education. I remember her LSU team beating my team as a freshman in the 1991 SEC Championship. Toughness, that’s what comes to mind that year. Hopefully, our team will reflect that type of toughness and the things she stood for.”
Tickets are on sale at LSUtix.net and will be on sale at the Maravich Center box office on gameday beginning at 5:30 p.m. Fans can purchase a special preseason WNIT ticket package to watch both WNIT games this weekend, in addition to the Lady Tigers’ contest against Auburn on Jan. 23 for only $12 now at LSUtix.net. The tickets are in the 200 level section.
The Lady Tigers, ranked 15th in the Associated Press preseason poll and 17th in the USA Today Coaches’ poll, will face either Mount St. Mary’s or St. Joseph’s at 2 p.m. Sunday in the second round of the preseason WNIT.
The first 100 fans in attendance on Friday will receive a free limited edition Sue Gunter bobblehead. Doors to the arena open at 5:30 p.m.
The game will be carried on the LSU Sports Radio Network on Eagle 98.1 FM in Baton Rouge and to members of the Geaux Zone at www.LSUsports.net/live. Live streaming HD video and audio is also available to Geaux Zone members.
In 40 seasons, Gunter combined to win 708 games as head coach at Stephen F. Austin and LSU. She built the Ladyjacks into a powerhouse in the 1970s with four top 10 national rankings. From 1982-2004, the Lady Tigers won 442 games and went to 11 NCAA Tournaments under the Naismith and Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer’s watch.
LSU enters the 2013-14 season with great expectations after returning a solid core from its 2013 Sweet 16 team and a talented freshman class. Caldwell is expected to start a lineup in the season-opener that consists of guards Danielle Ballard, DaShawn Harden and Raigyne Moncrief and front court players Theresa Plaisance and Sheila Boykin.
“This group is very eager to start the season,” said Caldwell. “Our freshmen don’t play like freshmen. The leadership of our three seniors has really set the tone. They understand the task at hand and they are ready. We are going to be tested right away because they have players who can make plays. It will be interesting to see how we respond defensively against a team who has a balanced attack.”
Plaisance takes the floor as a 2014 National Player of the Year candidate and a first-team All-SEC selection. LSU’s scoring options have multiplied with the addition of Moncrief and Harden, who combined for 61 points in the Lady Tigers’ two exhibition wins. The Lady Tigers will go 11 deep on their roster, including senior guard Jeanne Kenney, who will play after sitting out the exhibition schedule from a recovering head injury.
Stephen F. Austin went 14-17 a year ago, but the Ladyjacks return all five starters and are the favorites to win the Southland Conference. They are led by 6-foot-2 forward Porsha Roberts, a first-team All-SLC selection, who put up team highs in scoring (14.5 ppg), rebounds (7.5 rpg) and blocks (1.5) last season.
SFA actually leads the series with LSU, 8-7. The two teams had quite the rivalry from 1976-1993. It’s the first meeting between the two since the 2000 NCAA Tournament Second Round in Baton Rouge when LSU won 57-45. It’s also the first regular season meeting between the two since Feb. 16, 1993 when SFA won by a score of 81-68 in Nacogdoches. LSU is just 2-4 all-time against SFA in Baton Rouge.
LSU is playing in the preseason WNIT for just the second time and the first time since 2007 when it went 3-1 and reached the championship game before losing to Maryland.