NASHVILLE – The LSU Lady Tigers mixed superior height, experience and desire to whip the Kentucky Wildcats, 72-61, Saturday afternoon in the semifinals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament here at Bridgestone Arena.
It was that simple as fourth-seeded LSU improved to 22-9 and advanced to today’s championship game against Tennessee, a 74-58 winner over South Carolina Saturday.
Kentucky, the SEC’s regular season champs, fell to 25-6 and await next Monday’s NCAA Tournament selection show.
Coach Matthew Mitchell’s Wildcats have some repairs to make in both execution and confidence between now and then.
The Wildcats were dominated on the boards by the Lady Tigers, 38-23, which led to a slew of problems. A) It led to a lot of secondchance points by LSU – 12-4 edge on UK in that area – and B) It led to a lot of fouling by the smaller Wildcats, who looked helpless in trying to stop the bigger LSU players.
LSU hit 34 of 43 free throws, to 6 of 13 for Kentucky.
“I felt like we really tried to establish our inside game because we’re BIG, and we wanted to take advantage of our size,” said LSU head coach Nikki Caldwell. “When we did do that, it put a lot of pressure on them to guard us, which allowed us to get to the free throw line.”
“I think they really wanted our post players to try to beat them, and they put a lot of pressure on A’dia (Mathies), Keyla (Snowden) and Bria (Goss), and we just didn’t get much production out of our post game today and just could not make shots around the basket,” Mitchell said. “You’d like to see the free throws a little bit more even, but when you have it like that, you have to find some other way to pull it out.'
LSU also rated an edge in shooting from the field, hitting 48.7 percent of its shots on 19-of-39, while Kentucky was 24-of-59 from the outside, for 40.7 percent.
Asked about the free throw disparity, Mitchell didn’t utter a single word of complaint about the officiating...nor should he. He seemed to indicate the whole mess for his team was a result of LSU’s edge in desire, or want-to, if you will.
“They played with a lot of heart, a lot of desire,” Mitchell said, hinting that his own team did not make itself proud in either area on this day. “Clearly they wanted to play in the championship tomorrow.”
The Wildcats were unable to compensate for their relatively smallish height by consistently turning over the Lady Tigers, or by shooting well from the perimeter. LSU did have 24 turnovers in the game to 17 for Kentucky, but the Wildcats were never able to force turnovers in the kind of bunches that lead to extended runs.
LSU never trailed in this game. The Lady Tigers led by double digits nearly the entire game, with the biggest margin being 57-41 midway through the second half.
Mathies led Kentucky in scoring with 18 points, on 7-of-13 from the field and three of four at the free throw line, but most of that production came after LSU had this game firmly in hand.
“They are a good pressing team,” said LSU senior forward LaShondra Barrett, who scored 15 points. “They try to speed you up. They are very aggressive in their defense and their trap, and I think we just took advantage of that. We were patient with the ball. We wanted to dictate the tempo of the game. By playing them for the second time, we know their personnel and what they like to do. I think we just dictated the tempo from the beginning, and that just continued the whole game.”
Barrett made reference to her team’s 61-51 win over the Wildcats Feb. 5 in Baton Rouge in a game eerily similar to this one.
In both games, the Lady Tigers took the initiative early and never let go, a theme that clearly got under Mitchell’s skin in both cases.
Snowden added 17 points for the Wildcats, but was just 6-of-18 from the field.
No one had more than four rebounds for Kentucky.
Senior forward Courtney Jones led LSU with 18 points and seven rebounds.
“We just have to get in the gym and spend a lot of time there this week as we wait and see where our destination will be in the (NCAA) tournament,” Mitchell said. “Today is very disappointing. To win the tournament, you have to play well for three days, and we didn’t do that. But I think it’s an even greater accomplishment to play the best (in conference) over a 16-game schedule. I’m real proud of the team for being the SEC champions for the regular season, and it’s something we should draw some confidence from.”
Mitchell indicated that he will remind his Wildcats this week that their legacy is still being written.
“Now, as we go forward, we have to decide how special do we want to be,” Mitchell said. “We’re already special. We’ve done something that hasn’t been done in 30 years (win the SEC regular season crown). My hope for them is they are never satisfied with where they are. I think when you do that in life, you have a lot of problems.
“We have a lot left to accomplish.”