Lady Tigers upset No. 7 Kentucky
The most tumultuous week of the season for the LSU women's basketball team that featured snow travel delays, a postponed game, a season-ending illness, injuries and a death in the family was capped with one of the most inspiring efforts in Lady Tiger history and arguably the biggest win of the Nikki Caldwell era.
Junior guard Jeanne Kenney, who was questionable to play with a left foot injury and just days removed from the passing of her grandfather, poured in a career-high 22 points and nailed 5-of-5 threes as LSU shocked No. 7 Kentucky 77-72 in front of 6,773 fans on Sunday afternoon in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
"He came to every game since I was young," said Kenney of her late grandfather. "I remember every time I would look up and we would catch eyes, he would just give me a little salute. He just always kept telling me to hold my follow through and to stop taking so many charges because I'll get hurt. But I only listened to one tonight, so he's probably still mad at me."
Kenney, a native of Baton Rouge, sprained her knee last week then had foot pain that forced her to miss Saturday's practice. Her toughness was on full display again as she made her first five shots, took two charges and broke a 64 all tie with a three that gave the Lady Tigers the lead for good with 3:49 to play.
"Jeanne Kenney responded like her grandfather would have wanted her to," said LSU head coach Nikki Caldwell. "She embodies everything that you want in a student-athlete. Today, she was one of the most courageous players that I have ever had the opportunity to coach in her display of just being out there on the court. The fact that she came back and was able to play today was a testimony to where she is as a player, but more importantly where and who she is as a person."
LSU was playing its second game in less than 72 hours as a massive snow storm postponed the Lady Tigers' contest at Missouri that was originally scheduled for Thursday night. LSU held on for a 78-74 overtime win on Friday and had a light practice on Saturday. Due to the snow storm, Kenney was unable to make it back to Louisiana for her grandfather's funeral.
With the win, the Lady Tigers took a big step in improving its NCAA Tournament resume, moving to 17-10 overall and 8-6 in Southeastern Conference play. When the official NCAA RPI is released on Monday, LSU could move into the lower 40s or even upper 30s. This all with just eight players on the roster and seven in the final four minutes against the nation's No. 7 team.
"I'm learning a lot about this team," said Caldwell. "The first thing I'm learning is they are believing in each other and in this program and what this program was built on. Defensively, our effort and our ability to out-rebound our opponent the last six games has been an indicator of a team that is on a mission. This was a great win over a great team."
The Lady Tigers have displayed their perseverance all season. Sophomore Sheila Boykin was diagnosed with Guillian-Barre syndrome early in the week and will miss the remainder of the season. Meanwhile, junior forward Shanece McKinney injured her knee late in the game on Sunday.
For the third time in two years, Kentucky (23-4, 11-3 SEC) was upset by LSU. The Wildcats, who beat the Lady Tigers earlier this season in Lexington, lost in Baton Rouge last season and then again in an SEC Tournament semifinal game last March.
Theresa Plaisance charted her fifth double-double of the season with 20 points and a game-high 13 rebounds, representing the highest rebound total of her career in an SEC game. Plaisance reached double-figures for the 26th consecutive game, the longest streak by an LSU player since Sylvia Fowles did it in 26 straight during her junior year of 2006-07.
Senior guard Bianca Lutley scored 15 points for the second consecutive game, while freshman Danielle Ballard had 10 points and three steals. Ballard has recorded 82 steals on the season, just four shy of the LSU freshman record and 11 short of the school single-season milestone.
McKinney tied a career high with five blocked shots in 30 minutes before leaving to injury.
LSU shot a blistering 64 percent in the first half with five threes to take a 43-32 lead on the Wildcats at halftime. The Lady Tigers put together a 7-0 run, and Kenney put LSU ahead for double-digits for the first time with a three with 1:05 on the clock.
LSU maintained its lead through most of the second half. Plaisance's jumper made it 61-53 with 8:51 to go, but UK struck for a 13-3 spurt that tied the game. A'dia Mathies' lay-up put the score at 64 all with 4:03 to play.
Without hesitation, Kenney confidently answered firing in another three that brought the crowd to its feet. Mathies turned it over and on LSU's ensuing possession, Kenney stroked another jumper. Plaisance made two free throws with 0:51 to go that pushed the LSU lead to 73-66.
The Lady Tigers converted four free throws in the final four seconds and held on for the victory. LSU finished at 52.9 percent from the floor - the second-highest allowed by UK all season -- and out-rebounded its sixth straight opponent 34-32. The Lady Tigers also connected for a season-best 7-of-10 from three-point range, the most allowed by the Wildcats all year.
Mathies finished with 20 points to lead Kentucky.
LSU hosts Alabama in its final regular season home game of the season at 7 p.m. CT Thursday. "Senior Night" festivities that will recognize Adrienne Webb and Bianca Lutley will be held prior to the game.