LSU upsets WVU in NCAA 2nd round, 76-67
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) When it was time to punctuate her second unforgettable performance in three days, Danielle Ballard whipped the basketball down with both hands and slammed it off the court.
She then leapt into teammate Theresa Plaisance’s arms, tugged at the ”LSU” on her jersey and raised her arm in celebration before a jubilant throng of fans.
Ballard had 22 points and 15 rebounds, and seventh-seeded LSU overcame a late seven-point deficit, a key injury and foul trouble to upset No. 2 seed West Virgina 76-67 in the second round of the NCAA tournament on Tuesday night.
”I was like, `We did it again.’ I was super excited,” said Ballard, a sophomore guard, who had 24 points and 17 rebounds in LSU’s first-round win over Georgia Tech. ”All of my frustration went out on the ball. … It was just a joyful moment.”
Playing the last 12 minutes with four fouls, Shanece McKiney had 13 points, seven rebounds and five blocks, while DaShawn Harden added 12 points for LSU (21-12), which advanced to the Sweet 16 for a second straight season – both times with a second-round upset on its home court.
The Lady Tigers also played most of the game without senior guard Jeanne Kenney, who not only averages 11.6 points but has been the team’s emotional leader. After Kenney left with a concussion in the first half, younger, less experienced players had to pick up the slack. Jasmine Rhodes was one of them, scoring 11 points on 5 of 7 shooting after not scoring in her previous five games.
”They chose to dig a little deeper and give a little more for Jeanne, because she’s been just that for them for a long time,” LSU coach Nikki Caldwell said. ”I’m extremely proud of this team for realizing how great they can be.”
Next up for LSU is a rematch with Louisville. The two teams played in the preseason WNIT and the Cardinals came away with a 21-point win.
Caldwell said her players will probably be clambering for Louisville scouting reports and film clips, but she’s going to make them wait at least a little while.
”I’m not going to give it to them. I want them to understand what they just did and what they accomplished, with the challenges that we had, was amazing. I want them to enjoy the moment. … They deserve a full day to just enjoy beating a very good West Virginia team … to advance to another Sweet 16.”
Holding a seven-point lead 5:05 left, West Virginia was on the verge of winning the first second-round NCAA game in program history, but LSU stunningly seized control with a 16-2 run. Asya Bussie had 21 points and Bria Holmes 12 for West Virginia (30-5), which fell to 0-8 all time in second-round games.
”We won 30 basketball games this season but we felt like we gave one away here tonight,” said West Virginia coach Mike Carey said.
LSU appeared to be on its heels when Bussie’s free throw made it 63-56 and capped a stretch in which WVU scored 13 of 15 points at the foul line.
Ballard responded with runner, sparking a 6-0 run that pulled LSU back to 63-62 with 3:30 left.
A day earlier, Carey had said he liked his team’s chances in a close game with four minutes left, because WVU had been so solid closing out games all season.
Not this time.
Bussie’s transition layup with 3:02 to go was WVU’s only basket during a more than five-minute span, and LSU went up 72-65 when Ballard’s free throws capped the decisive run.
”We just lost our focus and weren’t defending,” Bussie said. ”Just down the stretch, we didn’t do the things we were supposed to do.”
By contrast, LSU survived having two its best front court players, Theresa Plaisance and McKiney, on the bench with four fouls each with 12 minutes left.
That allowed WVU to exploit mismatches with its top interior players, Bussie and Holmes, who combined for 10 points during a 16-2 run that gave the Mountaineers a 57-50 lead.
McKiney returned with about nine minutes left and Plaisance with 6:40 to go. Plaisance finished with nine rebounds and eight points in 28 minutes, and LSU outrebounded WVU 55-40.
West Virginia also hurt itself with poor shooting, hitting 19 of 63 from the field (30.2 percent).
WVU senior guard Christal Caldwell, who had 10 points, was 3 of 19 shooting, 1 of 9 from 3-point range.
”I hate it,” she said of how her career ended. ”I know deep down in our heart we didn’t play the best game and didn’t do some of the things we’ve done all year long. It hurts to go out like that.”