BATON ROUGE - All-America candidate LaSondra Barrett scored a game-high 17 points -- including LSU's last 10 points of the game -- to lift the Lady Tiger basketball team to its 400th all-time Maravich Center victory by a score of 53-49 over Mississippi State on Thursday night.
LSU (16-8, 6-5 SEC) swept the season series and won its fifth straight game over the Lady Bulldogs. The Lady Tigers are now 400-109 all-time in the building named after the legendary Pistol "Pete" Maravich. After coming off a signature win over No. 5 Kentucky, LSU looked sluggish at times but managed to make plays down the stretch and close out a three-game homestand with a solid defensive effort.
Mississippi State (13-11, 3-8) dropped its fifth consecutive game and fell to 1-21 all-time in Baton Rouge. After shooting 42.3 percent in the first half, LSU cooled the Lady Bulldogs off to 29.2 percent in the second stanza, finishing at 36 percent for the game.
"We knew this was going to be a battle," said LSU head coach Nikki Caldwell. "They're a well-coached team, and they get after you defensively. Obviously we did what we needed to do on the defensive end, but I was very proud of this group for their late game play and coming away with the victory."
Barrett scored 13 points in the second half and displayed tremendous poise down the stretch. The Jackson, Miss., native was 11-of-13 from the free throw line, moving her into a tie for fourth place in LSU career free throws made with 420. Tonight, she tied Julie Gross, who made 420 from 1976-80. Barrett added seven rebounds and surpassed Seimone Augustus for 12th in LSU career rebounds with 731.
"She (Barrett) was able to convert on some plays for us, but when you're going strong to the basket and you're commanding that type of attention, she just used her power game," said Caldwell. "That's the great thing about Barrett, she's so versatile. She can play around the perimeter, but then if we need to bring her inside, we're able to do that as well."
MSU was led by Diamber Johnson, who finished with 15 points and delivered 10 points in a first half that ended with LSU up 28-25. The Lady Tigers trailed 39-37 when Courtney Jones drained two free throws to tie the game with 8:29 left on the clock. Barrett's layup with 6:18 to go broke the tie and LSU would not relinquish the lead despite a frantic final minute.
Barrett scored LSU's final 10 points from the 4:22 mark on. Her layup and free throw following a foul with 2:03 remaining put the Lady Tigers ahead by six, but two free throws by Johnson and a jumper by Martha Alwal made things interesting. LSU led 49-48 with 35 seconds left in the game.
Barrett made two free throws on the other end and Johnson connected for 1-of-2 for MSU with eight seconds remaining. Barrett then confidently swished two free throws with four seconds on the clock to finish off the 53-49 score.
LSU shot 41.9 percent from the floor and outscored Mississippi State's bench, 27-18. The Lady Tigers, who entered Thursday's play second in the SEC in free throw shooting, shot a solid 15-of-19 from the line.
LSU departs for Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Saturday in preparation for a road game at Alabama at 1 p.m. Sunday. The game will be televised by Comcast Sports Southeast (CSS) and picked up by Cox Sports Television (CST). It will also be streamed online at ESPN3.com.
HEAD COACH NIKKI CALDWELL
Opening statement ...
"First off, we knew this was going to be a battle. It was at Mississippi State. They're a well-coached team, and they get after you defensively. Obviously, we did what we needed to do on the defensive end, but I was very proud of this group for their late game play and coming away with the victory."
On LaSondra Barrett and Courtney Jones ...
"We want to make sure that Courtney (Jones) and LaSondra (Barrett) can go to distance, because we need them. They're two of our proven late-game players. Courtney got a key rebound for us. LaSondra really challenged our players to get to the free throw line late in the game. We wanted to definitely get the ball inside or dribble-drive. LaSondra really put the team on her back, and I thought she did a phenomenal job setting that tone for us when we were struggling to hit the open jumpers. We struggled to make some layups. That put a little more pressure on our offense, but when you've got LaSondra Barrett playing that aggressively, she's hard to guard."
On LaSondra Barrett ...
"We figured that we could exploit their defense, because we were forcing rotations, which then would force a closeout. She was very aggressive and really deliberate in getting herself a great look. She was able to convert on some plays for us, but when you're going strong to the basket and you're commanding that type of attention, she just used her power games. That's the great thing about Barrett, she's so versatile. She can play around the perimeter, but then if we need to bring her inside, we're able to do that as well."
On LSU ...
"We need to stay very attentive to what it is that we do best. Obviously, we can't control anything that other teams are running, but we can control how hard we defend their action. We need to focus in on making layups and establishing our inside presence, whether it's man or zone. We need to continue to work on taking care of the basketball."
Sr. F LaSondra Barrett
On what was going through her head at the end of the game ...
"Coach didn't want any more outside shoots. She wanted us to get to the paint and get to the foul line, and then we were in a bind so she wanted us to be more aggressive and get more paint points. The last media time out she got on us about shooting more outside shots and trying to get the ball in the paint and get paint points. That was all on my mind and I was telling myself, don't shoot it."
On the lineup change ...
"From day one coach said starting doesn't matter. They are both equally as important. Right now we are sacrificing and just doing what the team needs. She's looking for a spark to come in and give a little bit of intensity. We are all team players. We are ready to do anything that needs to be done for the team."
On her and Courtney Jones ...
"Sometimes we play Batman and Robin. If Courtney's scoring I rebound, and if I'm scoring she rebounds. We play off each other. Going in we needed rebounds, and she sacrificed her body and had the will to get the ball. We knew if we got stops on the other end we could get to the free throw line and stretch the game instead of having to worry about being tight at the end."
Sr. F Courtney Jones
On the lineup change ...
"We have to be there for our team. We are seniors and we need to be there as support and we need to be there mentally as well. Whether we are putting up baskets and rebounds or just encouraging them, we have to do our part."
On the end of the game ...
"We have a lot of confidence in LaSondra. When we see her getting her spark we want to get our spark going. She's like that fire ball on our team. We want her to get her shots because we know she can make her shots, so we do whatever we have to do to get her open. It brings a lot of energy to us."
Sr. F Jeanne Kenney
On the game ...
"Our game plan was clear, and that's my fault for speeding up sometimes when we didn't need to. We would not attack when we needed to, but overall I thought we did a decent job in being disciplined. Our game plan was to get stops and take it to the goal and the paint. I thought we did a very good job at getting there."
Mississippi State Head Coach Sharon Fanning-Otis
"Something that we have addressed with our basketball team and I think we look more inwardly in terms of our progression is how hard are we going to play for a 40 minute period and staying focus. I felt like we did a lot better job at. Two areas statistically would be rebound and of course taking care of the basketball. I felt like we had really emphasized both of those. We didn't take care of the basketball like we needed to in the second half. LSU did a better job. I think they ended with a positive assist to turnover ratio and we were negative both halves. That just gives you extra possessions. We did try to rebound better and play tough enough defense to win a basketball game."
"Putting yourself in a position to win is always a key. I felt like we got that we got the ball in the interior, got to the free throw line and down the stretch it was going to be a time to score game. You can't let a player do what they do well. With (LaSondra) Barrett or any of them, they are going to do what they do well. Barrett took the ball at us and there was no one there to take a charge or help. Our help defense down the stretch just didn't do the job that we are going to have to do. She really wanted the ball in her hands and made some things happen and when that happens you have to be very smart relative to your position on drives. We had some opportunities to help each other there and possible come up with a great defensive play and we didn't do it. She ended up doing her job and they won the ball game."