JACKSONVILLE, Fla. --- Junior Alexis Hyder led the Lady Tigers with 23 points and pulled down 10 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough for LSU to pull out the upset over No. 13 Kentucky on Thursday at the SEC Tournament, falling 79-71 to the Wildcats.
The Lady Tigers closed out their season with a 10-21 overall record while the Wildcats (22-6) advance to the next round to face fourth-seeded Florida on Friday.
“Obviously the game didn’t play out the way that we had hoped for but I am extremely proud to be the head coach of these LSU Lady Tigers,” said head coach Nikki Fargas. “They have shown what it means to play through and handle adversity. They have shown what it means to stay together and the true meaning of family. They have shown that even through tough times that you still have to have less quit in you, and that’s what today’s game was about.”
Hyder led the Lady Tigers and tied her career-high in points, including a 9-of-10 effort at the free throw line and a 7-of-16 effort from the field. Along with Hyder, the Tigers saw double-digit points from Akilah Bethel, Rina Hill and Shanice Norton with 17, 13, and 10 points respectively. This is the second game this season where Hyder and Bethel both posted double-doubles. In addition to her 17 points, Bethel also hauled in 10 rebounds. She was 5-of-11 from the field and 7-of-14 from the charity stripe.
Hyder tied former Tiger and SEC Legend LaSondra Barrett for the second-most made free throws in an SEC tournament game at nine. Barrett’s record was also against Kentucky in 2012. Hyder has registered 10 double-doubles in her first season with the Lady Tigers, and has scored in double figures in 21 of LSU’s 31 games this year. She has led LSU in scoring in 13 games.
Both teams had double-digit turnovers with LSU picking up 17 points off 17 turnovers and Kentucky scoring 24 points off 14 LSU miscues. UK scored 42 points to LSU’s 32 points in the paint and out-rebounded LSU, 36-32.
LSU and UK traded baskets early in the first quarter but LSU went on a scoring drought for over three minutes and Kentucky took advantage, mounting a 14-0 run to pull ahead, 18-5, with 3:58 left in the first quarter. Hyder scored five of LSU next seven points to close the gap to eight points, 20-12, and UK ended the quarter with a 25-14 lead.
“You look statistically, the first quarter is where we really lost the game,” said Fargas. “Offensively, our execution was not there and they did a nice job of capitalizing off of our turnovers, which led to layups and three-point plays. When you play a team like Kentucky, you always want to focus in on a couple of areas, and those areas are not allowing them to get their running game going or letting them get on the offensive glass. To send a team to the free-throw line 10 times in a quarter, that is too much for us and I thought that was a factor for us in the first quarter.”
In the second quarter, LSU refused to go quietly and UK only had a one-point advantage in the second after both teams shot 40 percent or better and both teams hit three free-throws. Hyder had 16 points and five rebounds in the first half as UK went into the locker room up, 41-29, at the break. In the first half, UK converted LSU’s nine turnovers into 14 points while LSU only scored two points off five UK miscues. Hyder was 6-of-6 on free-throw attempts in the first half.
LSU began the second half with a missed jumper from Hyder to give Kentucky an opportunity to score, now up 43-29. Hill answered their shot but Kentucky began to pull away even more by making the next three baskets. Closing the third quarter, the Lady Tigers went on a five-point run to bring the game to a 56-42 Wildcat lead, but with four seconds to go Janee Thompson scored to push her squad into the fourth quarter with a 58-42 lead.
Trailing by 16, the Tigers never gave up their intensity in the fourth quarter. LSU scored the first four points of the quarter. Kentucky had three players foul out of the game as LSU kept up their vigor. The Tigers went on a 6-0 run with less than three minutes to go to fuel the electricity of the crowd and bring the game to a nine-point margin. Kentucky barreled back bringing the Lady Tiger deficit to 15 points but LSU continued to claw away at the deficit. A jumper by Hyder, followed by a three-pointer from Hill sparked the shot-for-shot battle for the last minute of the game. Bethel’s last shot of the game with two seconds to go gave LSU 29 points, the most points score in the fourth quarter this season, and an eight-point shortfall ended the season for the Lady Tigers, fighting until the end.
“We were struggling offensively, so we were trying to get anything possible,” said Hyder. “Personally I was trying to do everything to help the team to get us going. You only need so many plays to get our momentum going. That was my intent. I didn't really want this to end for our seniors. I wanted them to have a longer push. That was my motivation.”
Makayla Epps and Thompson led Kentucky with 17 points apiece. Evelyn Akhator posted a double-double of 15 points and 13 rebounds for the Wildcats.
For the game, LSU was 25-of-62 (40 percent) from the field and 19-of-30 from the free-throw line. LSU had two threes in the game from Hill, and didn’t attempt a shot from beyond the arc until late in the fourth quarter. UK was 25-of-53 (47 percent) from the field and 28-of-40 from the charity stripe. The Wildcats took 11 shots from three-point range, and only hit one trey in the second quarter.
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