LSU wins, moves to 2nd round

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Forget newborn Justice Fargas for a few days – she’ll get all the tender love and care from Mom in a couple days.

It’s the LSU women’s basketball team that made new momma and Lady Tigers coach Nikki Caldwell proud Sunday night in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.

Coaching for the first time since giving birth to her first child on March 6, Caldwell and No. 5 LSU overcame a sluggish start and second half deficit, outlasting pesky No. 12 San Diego State 64-56.

The win sent LSU into the second round of the NCAA Tournament and pushed the team to its 23rd and biggest win of the season.

“When we were down by [six], I really felt we got some great energy off our bench,” Caldwell said. “But more importantly the three young ladies to the left of me made some big-time plays for us. I can’t say enough of how proud I am of this group for staying true to the game plan and coming out with a victory.”

The three young ladies sitting next to Caldwell were seniors LaSondra Barrett and Courtney Jones and sophomore Jeanne Kenney.

They each did everything in their power to make sure that more the PMAC faithful didn’t go home unhappy following Sunday’s game.

The Lady Tigers’ trio combined for 40 points, 21 rebounds and nine assists in the win. Several of those buckets came to end Aztec runs in what was a back and forth game for most of the opening 30 minutes of action.

“They’re a good team. They have pretty good players, and they made some big shots,” Barrett said. “I think what made the difference is that we didn’t give up. … I think we just stuck at it.”

Sticking at it was something San Diego also did for most of the game, which had Lady Tiger fans on the edges of their seats for a lot of the game.

The Aztecs trailed early in the contest, but controlled tempo and pace late in the opening half to push the game to a 27-27 halftime tie.

With momentum and newfound life, San Diego State took control of the game in the early minutes of the second half and had LSU on the ropes, taking a six point lead with just more than 10 minutes to play.

But with their backs against the wall and their season on the brink of extinction, LSU answered the challenged and responded with a 16-2 run to regain control.

During the eight minute stretch, the Lady Tigers’ defense suffocated San Diego State, limiting the team to 0-of-8 from the field.

The defensive spurt wasn’t without a bit of luck, as the Aztecs also missed seven free throws, which served as further gasoline to LSU’s fire.

“When they made their run, we made sure that we didn’t give up,” Jones said. “We refocused and we listened to our coaches about relying on our defense and getting the ball in the paint and making layups. First half, we really weren’t making any, so we just had to calm down and relax.”

One of the reasons LSU was so easily able to relax was their surroundings.

More than 3,000 fans – most in purple and gold – attended Sunday’s opening round tilt. The crowd sounded bigger than the modest quantity and willed the Lady Tigers to victory, according to LSU’s players.

“Definitely, being on our home court is a real advantage,” Kenney said. “We have the best fans in the world. They cheer us on. Win or lose, they’ll be there for us. I thought they were our sixth man on the court today.”

“The fans were a big part,” Barrett added. “The crowd was into the game. Having them on our back really helped.”

The Lady Tigers likely needed another large crowd and effort to conquer their second round foe. With the win, LSU moved on to take on No. 4 Penn State.

That game was played last night in the PMAC with a score unavailable at press time.

The Nittany Lions earned their way into the NCAA Tournament after a dominant regular season.

Penn State finished the year with a 25-6 record, including a 13-3 mark in the Big 10 – easily good enough to win the conference’s regular season title.

Where LSU struggles on offense and relies on pesky defense, the Nittany Lions are the opposite and have a stout scoring threat.

Penn State has four players who average in double figures, led by guard Maggie Lucas, who averaged 19.1.

The Nittany Lions played one SEC foe during the regular season, scoring a five-point road win against South Carolina in November.

LSU beat South Carolina by 10 in January.

That sure looks like a pretty statistically even matchup.

Kenney said the Lady Tigers needed to not worry as much about Penn State’s strengths, but rather correcting their own weaknesses.

If LSU did that and played a cleaner game, the guard said she believes the Lady Tigers would triumph to the Sweet 16.

“It’s important to take it day by day,” Kenney said. “And hopefully we’ll get this win Tuesday, and we’ll be on our way.”

LSU sophomore and former Vandebilt standout Theresa Plaisance makes a move during Sunday’s NCAA Tournament game.