BATON ROUGE - All-America candidate LaSondra Barrett scored a game-high 14 points and the LSU women's basketball team compiled a 12-0 second-half run with suffocating defense to rally past 24th-ranked South Carolina, 58-48, and win its 10th straight game on Thursday night in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
The Lady Tigers (13-3) improved to 4-0 in Southeastern Conference play for the fifth time in school history and the first since the 2007-08 season. The 10-game winning streak is LSU's longest since winning 14 in a row in 2007-08. LSU is one of two unbeaten teams left in conference play after Kentucky defeated Tennessee in the final seconds on Thursday night.
"With us playing at home, we want to make sure that we're sending a message that the PMAC is a very difficult place to come here and play at," said LSU head coach Nikki Caldwell. "I'm really proud of this team in really being a defensive-minded team. I'm very pleased with our effort in the second half, considering we got off to a sluggish start. Krystal Forthan came in and gave us a spark, and Bianca Lutley was very calm and poised at the point. A lot of players did some good things. It was a great win for our program."
The Gamecocks (14-3, 3-1) saw an eight-game winning streak come to an end in surrendering a season-high 58 points to LSU. It was South Carolina's 11th straight loss in the Maravich Center, dropping to 1-12 all-time in Baton Rouge.
Thursday's game clashed the SEC's two best defenses as South Carolina entered the contest with the nation's second-best scoring defense, holding opponents to 45.2 points per game. LSU ranked third nationally allowing only 46.5 points per contest.
Barrett converted 8-of-10 from the free throw line, including six straight free throws in the final four minutes following a double-technical foul on Gamecock head coach Dawn Staley, who was ejected from the game at the 3:20 mark. LSU shot 20-of-25 from the line for the game for 80 percent.
Destini Hughes continued her recent scoring spree with 11 points and freshman Krystal Forthan grabbed a career-high 11 rebounds -- 10 of those coming in the second half. Bianca Lutley provided a spark off the bench with several key shots in a seven-point effort.
South Carolina turned a 27-20 halftime lead into a 10-point advantage in the first minute of the second half, but the Lady Tigers cut the deficit to 30-26 when Forthan grabbed her own miss and scored. LSU continued to chip at the score and finally knotted the game for the first time since it was 6-6 when Lutley converted an acrobatic layup in the lane with 11:39 to go.
With the score tied at 33, the Lady Tigers went on a 10-0 run in a span of two minutes with one hustle play after another. Lutley added another layup and Forthan's dominant second half included a steal at midcourt and a transition bucket from Courtney Jones. LSU led 39-33 with 10:02 remaining in the contest.
"Both teams did what they wanted to do defensively," said Caldwell. "The thing that I felt that separated us was when we changed up our defense and Courtney Jones was on the top of our press. Our pressure really picked up a notch, and we were able to turn them over and score the basketball."
South Carolina was able to come within a point, but a 12-0 LSU run starting at the 5:47 mark put the game away. Jones grabbed a Barrett missed free throw for a putback shot. Staley was then tossed from the game at the 3:20 mark and Barrett made six straight free throws to ice the game. LSU led 53-40 on Barrett's final free throw. Hughes accounted for LSU's final five points at the line.
LSU shot 42.2 percent and the Lady Tigers maintained the nation's second-best field goal percentage defense by holding the Gamecocks to 29.6 percent from the floor.
LSU plays its next two league games on the road beginning at Florida on Sunday. Tipoff from the O'Connell Center is noon CT and the game will be televised on Comcast Sports Southeast (CSS) and Cox Sports Television (CST).
HEAD COACH NIKKI CALDWELL
Opening statement ...
"When you look at the two teams, there are a lot of similarities in our defensive pressure and trapping and really trying to turn people over. Both teams did what they wanted to do defensively. The thing that I felt that separated us was when we changed up our defense and Courtney Jones was on the top of our press. Our pressure really picked up a notch, and we were able to turn them over and score the basketball. I'm really proud of this team in really being a defensive-minded team. I'm very pleased with our effort in the second half, considering we got off to a sluggish start. We had pretty much all of our starters in foul trouble. Krystal Forthan came in and gave us a spark, and Bianca Lutley was very calm and poised at the point. A lot of players did some good things, but I really wanted to highlight those two. It was a great win for our program."
On South Carolina ...
"I thought South Carolina did a great job in the first half of really attacking us off the dribble drive and getting some easy layups. They also got some transition baskets on us early. We came back in the second half. I asked the team a few questions about what we needed to do in adjusting and what's going to help them make layups, because we were missing quite a few in the first half. They had the answers, and I said, 'It's all about you going out there and doing it now.'"
On SEC games ...
"The SEC is definitely a tough conference to play in. Anytime you get a win in our conference, you don't take that for granted. You don't want to ever overlook an opponent. You want to make sure that you're prepared for each one, and not trying to fast forward the process. I told the team to enjoy this win tonight, but to know that tomorrow at 11:30 where our focus is on us and what we have to do to get ready for Florida. They're definitely a team that will win a lot of ballgames because they're a very good team. With us playing at home, we want to make sure that we're sending a message that the PMAC is a very difficult place to come here and play at."
Sr. F LaSondra Barrett
On how big of a game this was ...
"We were very pumped before the game, to come out and play such a talented team as South Carolina. They are playing well right now, but 'hats off' to our coaching staff for giving us a good game plan. The players were into it, the bench was into it and the fans were into it. It was a fun game to play all around."
On the two big runs in the second half...
"At halftime, I came in and told our guys 'we've been down before, we know we can come back and win it.' We knew it started with our defense first. We had great defensive energy, especially on that press to turn them over a couple of times. We just need to settle down. Sometimes we can get a little too into the game, but once we settle down and realize that rebounds and defense were the two factors that were going to help us win the game, we tuned in."
Fr. F Krystal Forthan
On her defensive rebounds throughout the game...
"Just being able to help my team get rebounds, and being able to bring energy on and off the court was a big help. I knew I had to go to the boards whenever I could to help us win tonight."
South Carolina Head Coach Dawn Staley
On the turning point in the game...
"There was a point where we just stopped scoring. We had a few unforced turnovers and we are not characteristically a team that turns the ball over. Part of it was our fault and part of it was LSU's fault, being big and long. They were able to disrupt us. In the first half we kept them off the free-throw line and we were able to score some points. We just were not able to do these things in the second half."
On the play of Krystal Forthan...
"Krystal is incredibly athletic. We knew how athletic she was, we knew she was a great rebounder and she can make some shots, especially in traffic. She did an excellent job of getting timely rebounds."