She did in a big way as Ballard poured in a career-high 25 points, including 10 straight during a critical stretch in the first half, as the LSU women's basketball team knocked off previously unbeaten No. 12 West Virginia, 71-63, in the second game of the Florida International Thanksgiving Classic on Friday night in U.S. Century Bank Arena.
The Lady Tigers (2-2) snapped a two-game losing streak and recorded their highest ranked win over a non-conference opponent since upsetting No. 9 UCLA, 55-53, on Dec. 28, 2010. The victory sent LSU to the tournament's championship game to be held at approximately 2 p.m. CT Sunday.
The Lady Tigers will face host FIU who stunned Iowa, 66-65, in the final seconds on a buzzer beater. The Panthers trailed by as many as 13 points in the second half. The LSU Sports Radio Network will carry Sunday's championship contest on 107.3 FM in Baton Rouge and to members of the Geaux Zone on LSUsports.net/live. The tipoff show airs at 1:45 p.m. CT.
Ballard, the prized recruit of Caldwell's first recruiting class, put on a show Friday night, finishing 10-of-16 from the floor, collecting five steals and grabbing eight rebounds. Her 25 points were the most by an LSU true freshman since LaSondra Barrett scored 27 at Arkansas on Jan. 8, 2009.
"She was very crafty in getting open looks, but the main thing is that she was aggressive," said Caldwell, who won her sixth game over ranked opponent as LSU coach in less than two seasons. "She played very well off the bounce for us. Defensively, she got some huge steals and had some hustle plays, but more importantly, she was all over the boards. She definitely graduated to another level tonight. "
Four Lady Tigers finished with double-figure scoring. Junior forward Theresa Plaisance added 13 points and swished a perfect 7-of-7 from the free throw line. Plaisance iced the game with four free throws in the final 17 seconds. Adrienne Webb had 12 points, and Bianca Lutley chipped in 10 points.
The Mountaineers (3-1) came into the contest with one of the nation's stingiest defenses, allowing only 49.7 points per game. WVU, which dropped to 0-4 all-time against LSU, committed 28 turnovers - 14 of which were Lady Tiger steals.
Ayana Dunning, the Mountaineers leading scorer and an LSU transfer from 2009, finished with 11 points but managed only one field goal against the Lady Tiger defense.
LSU trailed 42-38 with 13:51 left in the game, but Ballard served as the catalyst for the comeback. She converted a layup and then kept an ensuing possession alive when she found Webb for a three in the right corner that gave the Lady Tigers a 43-42 lead.
With 10 lead changes, the game reached its final tie with 3:35 remaining. That's when followed with a jumper at the top of the key that put LSU ahead for good, 61-59, with 3:16 to go.
"Both teams competed to the end in a physical game," said Caldwell. "Each time they made a run, we would answer. When we made a run, they would answer. It was very competitive. They did a good job of really denying or pressing up on us. We had to play more off the bounce, and we responded to that."
A very physical contest that featured a combined 47 fouls went the Lady Tigers' way in the final three minutes. Ballard converted another tough layup, and LSU finished 22-of-30 from the free throw line.
The Lady Tigers shot 45.3 percent to West Virginia's 36.0 percent.