No. 20 LSU 76, Mississippi St. 47
Allison Hightower smiled and waved as the crowd rose to its feet, some fans chanting: ``Al-li-son!''
She exchanged a high-five with coach Van Chancellor and hugged top assistant Bob Starkey. Then she took a seat for the final five minutes of a contest that seemed over well before that because of the way she dominated the last home game of her career.
``This is the way to go out,'' Chancellor said, recounting what he told Hightower shortly before the final horn. ``Win really big and play the game of your life.''
Hightower scored 26 points, helping No. 20 LSU close its regular season with its fifth victory in six games, 76-47 over Mississippi State on Sunday.
``It's kind of bittersweet - kind of sad and also exciting,'' Hightower said, touching on memories of her past four seasons. ``I got to enjoy (two) Final Fours, (three) NCAA tournaments, playing with veteran players. ... This experience is something I'll never forget.''
A memorable performance for Hightower also helped LSU (20-8, 9-7 SEC) climb into fourth in the conference, thereby earning a first-round bye in the league tournament that begins on Thursday.
LaSondra Barrett added 14 points for LSU, which raced to a double-digit lead in the first five minutes, led by 28 in the first half and 36 in the second.
Chanel Mokango scored 18 for Mississippi State (18-11, 9-7), which entered the game averaging 71.4 points but shot only 29.3 percent (17 of 58) and turned the ball over 18 times.
Mississippi State still finished third in the SEC and will also have a bye in the league tournament.
``Hopefully our light will come on, that switch will be flipped,'' Mississippi State head coach Sharon Fanning-Otis said. ``We have an opportunity now. ... You have to play well at this time of year and I was disappointed in us competing today, but I think you have to give credit to LSU relative to their execution and their teamwork.''
Georgia, which won Sunday, and Vanderbilt, which lost, also were 9-7 in the league, but finished out of the top four because of conference tiebreakers.
Hightower, a shooting guard from Arlington, Texas, has been LSU's leading scorer this season, averaging 18.2 points coming in. Against the Lady Bulldogs, she was 10 of 18 shooting, hitting a pair of 3s to go with an array of midrange jumpers, runners in the lane and driving layups.
``We had an opportunity to take two or three charges, but if you don't get there in time (Hightower) is going to play her very best game because she knows how to get to the rim,'' Fanning-Otis said. ``For the senior on the team, that is what you expect. You expect them to be inspired and be their best when it gets closer to crunch time because they won't have this opportunity any more.''
Katherine Graham added nine points, seven rebounds and six assists for the Lady Tigers.
Armelie Lumanu scored 10 points for Mississippi State, but leading scorer Alexis Rack - averaging about 18 points per game - was held to seven points on 2 of 12 shooting, 1 of 6 from 3-point range. LSU's Destini Hughes used her quickness to stay with Rack on the perimeter.
``My role was not let her get any 3s off,'' Hughes said. ``I was just trying to play close.''
Coming out of halftime with a 26-point lead, LSU maintained intensity on both ends.
While Mississippi State went more than five minutes without a field goal, Hightower and Barrett converted three-point plays on driving layups during a 12-0 run that gave LSU a 56-20 lead with 12:45 to play.
Barrett scored 11 of her points in the first half. Her first six points on a jumper, layup and free throws helped LSU race to a 12-0 lead.
Little went right for the Lady Bulldogs, who did not score until 14:22 remained in the first half. Mississippi State shot 26 percent (7 of 27, including 0 of 5 from 3-point range) and turned the ball over 10 times in the first 20 minutes.
LSU grabbed its first 20-point lead when Hughes' 3 made it 28-8.
LSU shot 56 percent (14 of 25) and hit four of six 3-point attempts in the first half, when Hightower scored 16 of her points. Hightower's short jumper, followed by Barrett's putback, put LSU up 42-14.
Mokango scored inside to make it 42-16 at halftime.