Lady Tigers Beat Wildcats, Advance to SEC Final
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Senior forward Courtney Jones scored 18 points and No. 4 seed LSU kept its magical ride through the Southeastern Conference Tournament alive as the Lady Tigers ousted top-seed Kentucky, 72-61, to advance to the championship game for the ninth time in program history on Saturday afternoon in Bridgestone Arena.
LSU (22-9) shattered a school record with 34 made free throws on 43 attempts, breaking the previous mark of 31 set three times, including most recently in 2010. The 43 attempts tied for third most in school history and the most against an SEC opponent ever for LSU.
"I have truly enjoyed this group," said LSU head coach Nikki Caldwell. "It's been an amazing journey and it isn't over yet. I know this team is going to lay it on the line. I know they're going to play with a lot of heart. We are going to go after whoever we have to stand up against."
The Lady Tigers will renew March rivalry with No. 2 seed Tennessee in Sunday's championship game at 5 p.m. CT live on ESPN2 and ESPN3.com. The Lady Vols were a 74-58 winner over South Carolina in the second semifinal.
LSU will be seeking its third SEC Tournament title and first since 2003. Caldwell will go up against her mentor in Lady Vol head coach Pat Summitt. Caldwell was a member of six SEC Tournament championships as a player, graduate assistant and assistant coach under Summitt. It's the sixth time that LSU and Tennessee will square off in the SEC Championship Game.
Kentucky (25-6), ranked ninth in the ESPN USA Today Coaches poll, lost to LSU for the second time this season. The SEC regular season champion Wildcats were unable to overcome foul trouble and LSU's size, trailing wire-to-wire. While the Lady Tigers got to the line often, Kentucky was just 6-of-13, nearly a carbon copy of the first meeting between the two in Baton Rouge on Feb. 5.
Jones lifted the team throughout, taking over for LaSondra Barrett who was plagued with foul trouble in the first half. Jones scored 10 in the first half and finished with seven rebounds while burying 8-of-11 from the line. Barrett got going in the second half, scoring all 15 of her points in the second stanza and knocking down 9-of-10 from the line.
"I can't say enough about them (Barrett and Jones)," said Caldwell. "Their competitive spirit tonight was huge. Even though LaSondra was in foul trouble the first half, I thought Courtney really stepped up her game. That's what you have to do this time of year."
Barrett picked up two quick fouls in the first two minutes and went to the bench, but the Lady Tigers managed a 10-0 run as Kentucky misfired on its first six shots. Jones had LSU's first eight points and the Lady Tigers grabbed their first double-digit lead on Theresa Plaisance's layup off the glass. Webb responded with a pair of jumpers in the final two minutes of the first half as LSU took a 26-16 lead into the locker room.
The Lady Tigers continued to pound it inside in the second half. Kentucky drew its eighth foul with 12:48 remaining and LSU was in the bonus the rest of the way. The Lady Tigers connected for 24 second-half free throws and never let the Wildcats in the game.
Barrett took over the game late, scoring six straight points, including a power move to the goal that gave LSU its largest lead of the game, 59-41, with 6:23 to go.
A'dia Mathies, the SEC Player of the Year, tried to rally the Wildcats back with a couple of late threes that cut the lead to under double-digits with 1:59 to play. The Lady Tigers put the game away at the free throw line to secure a championship game berth.
LSU dominated the boards, out-rebounding Kentucky, 38-23 and converting 12 second-chance points.
Mathies finished with 18 points on 7-of-13 shooting.