BATON ROUGE - On a night when five seniors were recognized in their final regular season home game, All-America candidate LaSondra Barrett scored 20 points and grabbed 12 rebounds as the LSU women's basketball team notched its sixth consecutive win, 69-66, over 24th-ranked Vanderbilt in front of a raucous crowd of 5,745 on Thursday evening in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
The Lady Tigers (20-8, 10-5 SEC) secured their first 20-win season since 2010 and remained in a tie for third place in the Southeastern Conference standings with one final regular season game remaining at No. 16 Georgia on Sunday. That game will be televised live on ESPN2 and ESPN3.com at 4 p.m. CT.
A win against the Lady Bulldogs on Sunday would lock up the No. 3 seed and a first round bye for LSU in next week's SEC Tournament in Nashville. The only way the Lady Tigers do not secure a first round bye (top-four seed) is the combination of a loss at Georgia and Arkansas beating South Carolina in Columbia. The first round gets underway on Thursday with the quarterfinals set for Friday.
"I can't say how proud I am to be a part of this," said LSU head coach Nikki Caldwell. "We have five great seniors, and they have meant a lot to this program. Tonight, they showed their toughness and how courageous they can be. They just made plays when they needed to. We're very thankful for this senior class. I told them that we still have one more regular season game to go, and we have some unfinished business. If they come with that same type of intensity and attitude, they will definitely go out of here on a great note."
Vanderbilt (20-8, 8-7 SEC) saw a three-game winning streak against LSU come to an end. The Commodores, who lead the SEC in field goal percentage, shot 43.1 percent for the game. Christina Foggie was one of three Commodores in double-figures, scoring 17 points.
Barrett finished 12-of-15 from the free throw line, moving into third place in LSU career free throws made with 455 and second place in LSU career free throws attempted with 607. Courtney Jones added 13 points, seven rebounds and three steals. Adrienne Webb fired in 6-of-11 from the floor for 12 points.
All five LSU seniors started, including injured point guard Destini Hughes. Hughes was an honorary starter and on the floor at the opening tip. LSU controlled the tip and passed it to Hughes who tossed it out of bounds and was lifted from the game to a standing ovation from the crowd and her teammates. The classy move was envisioned by Caldwell and Hughes and Vanderbilt head coach Melanie Balcomb agreed to it.
"That type of giving that (Coach) Melanie (Balcomb) did for Destini and for our program is just a testimony to her being a great person," said Caldwell. "She was looking at the overall situation, and we definitely appreciate her giving Destini the chance to stand out there. That's something that Destini will take with her the rest of her life."
Vanderbilt led 47-42 with 12:13 to go in the game but LSU responded with a 13-2 run. Lutley drained two free throws and then found Jones in transition for a beautiful layup after Theresa Plaisance swatted a Foggie shot. Plaisance nailed a three from the right wing and LSU led 55-49 with 6:30 remaining.
Taylor Turnbow got into the senior night scoring act finding Jeanne Kenney for a transition bucket and knocking down two free throws. With the Lady Tigers up 65-63, Jones and Barrett closed the game out at the free throw line, burying LSU's final four points.
LSU, which improved to 4-0 against ranked teams at home, finished 45.7 percent from the floor and dominated the boards, 41-21.
HEAD COACH NIKKI CALDWELL
Opening statement ...
"I can't say how proud I am to be a part of this. We have five great seniors, and they have meant a lot to this program. Tonight, they showed their toughness and how courageous they can be. They just made plays when they needed to. We're very thankful for this senior class. I told them that we still have one more regular season game to go, and we have some unfinished business. If they come with that same type of intensity and attitude, they will definitely go out of here on a great note."
On Destini Hughes starting the game ...
"I can't say what that meant for Coach Balcomb to agree to do that for Destini (Hughes) and our team. I asked her before the game, and I never want to take away from anybody's pregame or game routine. She told me, 'Nikki, I see that she's someone of great importance to your program, and she must be a great person.' That type of giving that (Coach) Melanie (Balcomb) did for Destini and for our program is just a testimony to her being a great person. She was looking at the overall situation, and we definitely appreciate her giving Destini the chance to stand out there. That's something that Destini will take with her the rest of her life. I don't want her to think that her career ended with a turnover, but it was a very special moment that she can reflect on. It should bring joy to her heart."
On LaSondra Barrett ...
"We were able to get that run going without LaSondra (Barrett), and I thought that was an opportunity for us to rest her. Then she had a little bit more wind underneath her and her legs down the stretch. She did come up with some key rebounds. She and Courtney Jones both really played well tonight. They played tough in the paint. They really went at their bigs off of the dribble drive and off of rebounds. We pulled them away to play low, but I liked how tough those two and other players played. I think those two really got it going and got us to the free throw line when we needed to get there. They converted, and that's an area that we typically, down the stretch now, have been very good at, at getting ourselves to the free throw line. Tonight, that was key for us."
Sr. F Taylor Turnbow
On senior night ...
"I think our emotions coming into senior night only helped us get momentum going into the first half. We appreciate every minute that we have been here, so feeling so special tonight helped us start the game."
Sr. F LaSondra Barrett
On intensity on senior night ...
"I think it hit me while I was warming up and looking at the crowd. At that moment I realized that would be my last game. I just wanted to go all out during every possession. I wanted to bring intensity and effort, and I also wanted to battle in the paint. I wanted to play tougher than whoever was blocking me or trying to box me out."
On the second half game ...
"During the time out coach talked about how we needed to pick up our defense and she was absolutely right. I think when we shut them down and limited there three's and got a couple turnovers there towards the end, we started gaining that momentum. Once you have that momentum on your side, you also have the fans, the crowd and the benches into it and it's a feeling that a team can't let get away."
Sr. F Courtney Jones
On getting them in foul trouble early ...
"It was very big. No. 21 and No. 34 are great on the boards, and they lead their team in rebounds. We had to get them away from the goal as soon as possible so we could run our offense and rebound as well."