Clutch Free Throws Lift Lady Tigers Past Tennessee

Alexis Hyder led LSU with 17 points in the upset over UT.
Alexis Hyder led LSU with 17 points in the upset over UT.
Chris Parent (@chrisparent)
Jennifer Rodrigues
Jennifer Rodrigues
Sr. Assoc. Communications Director

BATON ROUGE -- Alexis Hyder made two free throws with three seconds to play, as the LSU women's basketball team shocked No. 24 Tennessee, 57-56, on Sunday at the Maravich Center.

LSU (9-18, 3-11 SEC) led Tennessee (16-11, 7-7 SEC) by as many as 14 in the second quarter and held on to earn its first win over a ranked opponent of the 2015-16 season. The Lady Tigers last defeated a ranked opponent when they knocked off 18th-ranked Texas A&M in LSU’s first game of the SEC Tournament last season. LSU’s last win over a ranked opponent at the PMAC was also over Texas A&M in last year’s final regular-season game when the Aggies were 12th nationally.

With the win over her alma mater, head coach Nikki Fargas becomes the second-winningest coach in school history in terms of total wins with 92. She is behind legendary coach Sue Gunter who tallied 442 victories in 22 seasons. This is Fargas’ second win in her career over UT. She led the Lady Tigers to an 80-77 victory during the 2013-14 season. This is just the seventh win over UT at the PMAC for LSU in 22 meetings. The Lady Vols had won four straight in Baton Rouge as LSU’s last win was a 63-61 decision during the 2008-09 season. That was also the last time that an unranked LSU squad had defeated a nationally ranked UT team. With today’s victory, the Lady Tigers have now beaten a ranked UT squad when they were not ranked themselves three times in the 61-game history of the series.

“Our kids played with a lot of heart and a lot of fight until the very end,” said Fargas. “We didn’t give up and I’m so proud of our team for just hanging in there even when things looked like they weren’t going to go our way. We found a way and the hard work is something that we wanted to make sure was the theme for our team today. It was to really try to outwork, outhustle our opponent and we just had some key playmakers and we were able to come away with a victory.”

Hyder led the Lady Tigers with 17 points including a 9-of-11 effort at the free throw line. She was 4-of-8 from the field and also registered four rebounds, one blocked shot and one assist. Hyder has led LSU in scoring 10 times this season and has tallied 10 or more points in 17 games.

It was fitting that Hyder hit the game-winning free throws for LSU as she had a crucial turnover with 10.4 seconds remaining in the game with UT up, 55-53. Diamond DeShields stole the ball as Hyder was taking it up the floor and Hyder fouled DeShields on the play. When UT tossed the ball in, Jenna Deemer was forced to foul and sent Andraya Carter to the line. Carter missed the first free-throw attempt and sunk the second one for the three-point lead. On the next possession, Rina Hill dashed down the court and executed the layup with 4.5 seconds on the clock despite the LSU coaching staff alerting the team they needed a three. Shanice Norton was whistled for a foul just after Hill’s bucket, sending Mercedes Russell to the line. Russell missed both shots, leaving the door open for LSU as they were down by just one, 56-55. On Russell’s second miss, Hyder grabbed the board and was fouled by Carter with 3.4 seconds remaining in the game. Hyder, a 63-percent shooter from the line, nailed both free throws to seal the upset victory over the Lady Vols.

“First one ties, the second one wins it,” said Hyder when asked what she was thinking on those final two free throws. “We’ve been doing that exact late game (scenario) in practice for the past two weeks minimum. I had confidence. I owed that to my team. I had to redeem myself. ‘Redeem yourself, Redeem yourself’ is what Jenna (Deemer) said to me. They (teammates) really kept me in it. I really thought I lost it for them and I would be sick had we lost this game. I’m really glad that they were there for me because I was in ‘La-La’ land for a second (after the turnover) and they didn’t allow me to go.”

Akilah Bethel led LSU with a career-high 12 rebounds, all of which were defensive boards. She hauled in 12 of LSU’s 26 total defensive rebounds today. She fouled out with 1:43 remaining in the game, tallying nine points, two assists and a steal. She has recorded double-digit rebounds in three games this season, including the 10-board effort versus Texas A&M on Thursday evening.

Jenna Deemer, who was playing in just her second game back from missing nine games with an illness, scored nine points, all on threes. In the nine games that Deemer was out, LSU was 5-of-33 (15 percent) from three-point range. Deemer hit two clutch treys at the end of the third quarter that sent the Lady Tigers into the fourth quarter with a two-point lead, 39-37. With LSU down 35-33, Deemer hit her second three-pointer of the game with 1:06 left in the third period for the one-point advantage. Hill stole the ball from Te’a Cooper on UT’s next possession and kicked the ball out to Deemer who dropped in her third trey with under a minute left on the clock for the 39-35 LSU advantage. UT’s Bashaara Graves cut the LSU lead to two with a jumper with four seconds left in the third.

Hill contributed eight points and set a new career high with six assists. She also grabbed two rebounds and logged an assist. Jasmine Rhodes scored six points, while Ann Jones and Anne Pedersen chipped in four points and two points, respectively. Jones was also playing in just her second game after missing seven SEC meetings with an ankle injury.

The Lady Tigers were 20-of-55 from the field, including a 3-of-8 mark from behind the arc. LSU was 14-of-17 from the free-throw line for the game as the Lady Tigers hit all eight attempts from the charity stripe in the fourth quarter. This was the second-straight game that LSU shot better than 80 percent from the charity stripe. The Lady Tigers forced UT to turn the ball over 18 times, and scored 14 points off the miscues. UT also scored 14 points on 17 LSU turnovers. The Lady Vols were 21-of-55 from the field and just 9-of-16 from the free-throw line. In the fourth quarter, they missed half of their 12 attempts from the line. UT did win the battle on the glass, 39-33, and 30 of their rebounds were defensive boards.

“I really think the best part of this win is that this has been a season where their character has been tested,” said Fargas. “When adversity hits, who are we? We have been tough and you can’t just check LSU off. You have to have a game plan and you have to execute it. With the exception of where we struggled offensively, I feel like our defensive effort has been there consistently. This is one of the better defensive teams that I’ve had all five years since I’ve been here. They play so much bigger than what they would be considered on paper. I always tell them that the game doesn’t know your heart and today we laid it on the line and were able to come up with a win.”

In all 14 SEC games this season, LSU has held its opponent below their scoring averaging, some by more than 20 points below average. Tennessee came into the game averaging 66 points per game.

UT’s Diamond Deshields had a game-high 19 points on 8-of-13 shooting. With the loss, the Lady Vols may fall from the national rankings for the first time since 1985. They were ranked 24th nationally by the Associated Press and had exited the USA Today Coaches poll this week.

The Lady Tigers dominated the first half and held UT to their lowest scoring total in the first half of a game this season as LSU went into the locker room with a 28-18 advantage at the half. LSU put together two long scoring runs – a 10-0 run through the end of the first and into the second quarter, and a 12-0 run late in the second period. Bethel led LSU at the half with eight rebounds, all of which were defensive boards. Hyder had 10 points at the break off a 4-of-5 shooting effort from the field and a 2-of-3 mark from the charity stripe. LSU forced UT to turn the ball over 10 times and scored nine points off the miscues. The Lady Tigers were 11-of-30 (37 percent) from the field and 5-of-7 from the line. UT shot 30 percent (8-27) from the field, including a 2-of-8 effort from three-point range. The 28 points scored by LSU was the most they had scored in the first half since dropping 33 on Ole Miss in the 76-57 win over the Rebels.

The Lady Tigers wrap up the regular season next week against No. 22 Florida at the PMAC on Thursday, Feb. 25, at 7:30 p.m., and at No. 3 South Carolina on Sunday at 1 p.m. CT on ESPNU. Seniors Anne Pedersen, Akilah Bethel and Ann Jones will be honored in a pre-game ceremony on Senior Night against the Gators.

For all of the latest news and information on Lady Tiger basketball, visit www.LSUsports.net/womensbasketball. Fans also can follow the program on its social media outlets at www.Facebook.com/LSUwbkb, @LSUwbkb and @NikkiCaldwell on Twitter, @LSUwbkb and @LSUNikkiCaldwell on Instagram.

Post-Game Quotes

HEAD COACH NIKKI FARGAS

Opening Statement …
“Our kids played with a lot of heart and a lot of fight until the very end. We didn’t give up and I’m so proud of our team for just hanging in there even when things looked like they weren’t going to go our way. We found a way and the hard work is something that we wanted to make sure was the theme for our team today. It was to really try to outwork, outhustle our opponent and we just had some key playmakers and we were able to come away with a victory.

On Tennessee having trouble in late game situations this season …
“Our focus was on what we could control. We talked about staying in the moment and being that team that focused in on not giving up transition baskets. We talked about controlling the boards and not giving up offensive rebounds to Tennessee. We talked about canceling out some of that play action. On the flip side of that, we have been a late-game team. We practice where the clock is at four seconds, at the free-throw line. What does that look like? How do we play from there? We do that every day, every day in our practice plan there is a late-game situation. Today we were able to really execute and get some looks that we have been practicing in our late game.”

On the win after a tough season …
“It’s great to get the able bodies back on the roster (Jenna Deemer, Ann Jones). At the beginning of SEC play we lost (Jenna) Deemer and Ann Jones. They were just cleared to play this week so you definitely can’t go back in time but what would our season have looked like in conference play had those two been with us the whole time? Deemer had a stretch there when we weren’t good in the fourth quarter. I thought that was really key for us when she hit that three and then (Rina) Hill stole the basketball and (Jenna) Deemer hit another three. There is always one quarter that we are really not good and we struggle to score the basketball. When you have your best three point shooter back, your best guard shooter, and at the time, Ann Jones, when she went out she was shooting 70 percent from the field. So offensively we were definitely better and now having the ability to substitute and give these guys a breather, I think that played well to our psyche.”

On the best part about this win …
“That we won. I really think the best part of this win is that this has been a season where their character has been tested. When adversity hits, who are we? We have been tough and you can’t just check LSU off. You have to have a game plan and you have to execute it. With the exception of where we struggled offensively, I feel like our defensive effort has been there consistently. This is one of the better defensive teams that I’ve had all five years since I’ve been here. They play so much bigger than what they would be considered on paper. I always tell them that the game doesn’t know your heart and today we laid it on the line and were able to come up with a win.”

On what’s keeping them together …
“Our defensive movement was very good. All five people were moving and shifting and trying to defend the basketball. We weren’t just leaving it to a one-on-one situation because they have very good one-on-one players. I thought in the second half they made an adjustment with (Diamond) DeShields. Her one-on-one game really elevated their play but what we were able to do in the first half was play team basketball, our ability to rebound and keep them off the glass. I don’t believe we gave up any transition baskets in that first half either so our defensive effort was really key for us in the first half.”

On coming into the third quarter …
“The talk (at halftime) was really about our defense and our board play and not being a 20-minute team. We needed to make sure that we stayed the course and really wanted them to enjoy the journey that we are on, staying in the moment because time is winding down and the regular season is really coming to an end. We also wanted to make sure that we left everything out there and we did just that. We were able to, again, focus in for 40 minutes and that’s what has to happen from here on out. We’ve got to be a 40-minute team.”

On being the second winningest coach at LSU …
“There are so many great players and you are not winning without players. This group of young ladies…I’ve challenged them and they’ve stepped up. For our team to not have the season that we were hoping for, the team moral has been better than any team that we’ve had I feel. We’ve had a lot of ups and downs as far as not winning in games but I think the locker room, the overall feel for these young ladies, they really do have a genuine care for each other. I’m just very, very proud to be their coach here at LSU. We’ve got a lot more basketball in us and a lot more ‘Ws’ to go after.”

On beating Tennessee at home …
“The one thing about playing in the SEC and obviously playing against Tennessee, I remember one game that was here and we had them. We gave up a late game situation and they ended up with that one-point victory. It’s your home court and you’ve got to protect it. Today we did just that.”

LSU SENIOR FORWARD AKILAH BETHEL

Were you in the game at the time, and what did you think of the last second foul by Tennessee?
“Unfortunately I was fouled out by then but I was surprised that they (Tennessee) fouled with that amount of time left on the clock, but I’m glad they did. She (Alexis Hyder) was ‘ice in the veins’. She was ready to knock those free throws down.”

On what the win does for the team…
“It definitely fills our tank going into the SEC Tournament. We have two games left. We put down a ranked team and now we have our confidence. It can waiver sometimes, you know, losing and losing, but this definitely built our confidence in preparing us for what we’re about to face.”

On the mantra of “Don’t Stop Believing”…
“It has been about playing until the time is up. The time isn’t up, so we’re not going to stop. We’re going to keep continuing to fight. We’re still trying to win the SEC. We’re going to do what we want to. We don’t want our season to end.”

On the feeling in the locker room post game…
“Excited. We were excited. Ecstatic. After you go through what we’ve gone through I don’t think this could’ve played out any crazier, this whole season in general, with some people not coming back, injuries, and everything. We were excited. It just feels good that all the work that you’ve put in, regardless of our obstacles, that we pulled out the ‘W’.”

LSU JUNIOR FORWARD ALEXIS HYDER

On redeeming herself after her turnover with game-winning free-throws…
“I owe my team that. Literally, I owe my team that. They (teammates) really kept me in it. I really thought I lost it for them and I would be sick had we lost this game. I’m really glad that they were there for me because I was in ‘La-La’ land for a second and they didn’t allow me to go.”

On the last second foul that sent her to the line for a chance to win…
“I was trying to get to the rim. I didn’t even see them (the Tennessee players) to be honest. I got the rebound, get it and go. We had 4.5 seconds, maybe. I didn’t pay attention to them (Tennessee) at all. I was looking at the rim. I’m glad they fouled me.”

On getting back some players from injury…
“It has definitely made the game easier. When we’re playing with six or seven (people), Coach (Fargas) has to be really strategic about her timeouts. We have to be really strategic about our fouls. So having those two subs, (Jenna) Deemer, you have to guard her. It changes the whole dynamic of the game. You can’t sag on me and Akilah (Bethel) because you have a shooter there. So it definitely makes the game a lot easier. It opens up the floor and gives us breathers.”

What were you thinking on those final free throws?
“First one ties, the second one wins it. We’ve been doing that exact late game (scenario) in practice for the past two weeks minimum. Every day we’ve been doing it. I’m not talking about just fresh legs, but after you’ve been running transition, you’re tired, you’re breathing hard, so it felt good. I had confidence. I owed that to my team. I had to redeem myself. ‘Redeem yourself, Redeem yourself’ is what Jenna said to me. I felt good.”

TENNESSEE HEAD COACH HOLLY WARLICK

Opening Statement…
“Hats off to LSU, they fought hard and played a good game.”

Thoughts on Andraya Carter’s foul at the end of the game…
“She fouled her (Alexis Hyder), I don’t know. I can’t explain it. I don’t know why she fouled or what she was doing, but she fouled her.”

On LSU having Jenna Deemer and others back in the lineup…
“Well the whole team played solid and hard. They don’t look at their record. They just play basketball as hard as they can play. The whole team just really played hard.”

On facing LSU’s zone defense…
“The ball just got stuck in our hands, and what did we have 10 turnovers at the half? I mean it’s not a surprise how people are going to play us. We just stood around and turned the ball over. I don’t have any other explanation.”

On Diamond DeShields’ play in the third quarter…
“I thought she started to attack the basket and started to take shots that Diamond (DeShields) can make. She rebounded, decided she wanted to play and was a real bright spark for us today.”

On how LSU was able to finish the third quarter…
“Yeah, we gave (Jenna) Deemer two threes, but it comes down to what I’ve been saying, free throws and turnovers, I can’t put it more simple than that.”

Her thoughts on what this means for LSU Head Coach Nikki Fargas
“Hey, hats off to her. They played hard and it was a great win for her. I am happy for Nikki.”

UT GUARD DIAMOND DeSHIELDS

On if this was their worst loss of the season with how the game ended…
“I don’t know. I think all losses are equal. Any one is bad and painful. Tonight hurt because we were making so much progress moving into the SEC Tournament, and we knew these last four games were crucial for us to win. Taking this loss as it happened was painful, but we have to stay together. Together we can do anything and we believe that. We just need to go back to work.”

On her struggles in the first half against LSU’s zone defense…
“I don’t think it was tougher than other teams, but it was very physical. They are used to playing zone. Over the years I have been here, they have always played zone against us. They can interchange at any position, so that makes things kind of hard.”

On her improvements in the third quarter…
“I really just got more of a chance to play. In the first half I only played a couple of minutes. I had two early turnovers, and that kind of sealed the deal for me in the first half. In the second half, the coaches gave me a chance to go out there and do what I can do. I wish I could have had the opportunity to play a little bit more in the first half, but my mistakes put me on the bench. I feel that this was to my own team’s detriment because I could have helped them out if I was out there.”

On if she thought they had the win when LSU turned the ball over late in the fourth quarter…
“Well, all game I think both teams were catching a lot of breaks. LSU caught breaks from us missing our free throws and we were catching them off of them fouling us or turning the ball over. The game is never over until the clock hits all zeros. We knew how the game had been going and that this would have to be an ugly win for us if at all and we got out-hustled and out-played.”

UT FORWARD BASHAARA GRAVES

On how she thought the game ended…
“We just did not get it done at the free-throw line. We could have won the game at the line, but we just missed a couple of them.”

 

 

 

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