Glenn Guilbeau / Gannett News Service
BATON ROUGE – The seventh-seeded Lady Tigers trailed by seven points at the five-minute mark and did not have their leader and top player Jeanne Kenney because of a first half concussion, but they came back to beat No. 2 seed West Virginia, 76-67, to reach the round of 16 in the NCAA Tournament in front of about 8,000 at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center on Tuesday night.
A free throw by center Asya Bussie put West Virginia up 63-56 with 5:05 to go. She hit the second one for an apparent 64-56 lead, but a lane violation took that one away. LSU guard Danielle Ballard, who led all scorers with 22 points and all rebounders with 15, drove for a layup to cut it to 63-58 with 4:53 left. Then Rina Hill, subbing for the injured Kenney, hit a jumper to cut it to 63-60 with 4:04 to go. Hill rebounded a West Virginia miss and fed Jasmine Rhodes for a layup, and LSU was within 63-62 with 3:30 left.
Rhodes, who finished with 11 points, finally put LSU up to stay at 66-65 on a fast break layup with 2:20 to go. Amid chants of, “LSU … LSU … LSU,” Lady Tigers’ center Theresa Plaisance rebounded and put it back strong for a 68-65 lead and later hit two free throws for a 70-65 advantage with 56.3 seconds remaining, and it was over. LSU outscored West Virginia 20-4 over the final 4:53 for the victory.
The Lady Tigers (21-12) advance to the Sweet 16 for the second consecutive year and will play at No. 3 seed Louisville (32-4), which beat Iowa Tuesday, on Saturday. West Virginia finished 30-5.
LSU forward Shanece McKinney finished with 13 points, and Plaisance had eight. Bussie led West Virginia with 21, and Bria Holmes added 12. Christal Caldwell scored 10.
Despite losing Kenney to a concussion midway in the first half, LSU took a 37-35 lead with 2.8 seconds remaining in the first half on a brilliant drive and layup by Ballard to break the fourth tie of the game.
Kenney, a senior from Baton Rouge, missed the second game of the NCAA Tournament last season with a concussion suffered in the opener, but she was able to return for LSU’s Sweet 16 loss. Kenney was treated in the locker room in the first half and did not come onto the court in the second half.
The Tigers started the game fast as they had in the victory over Georgia Tech on Sunday and took a 10-3 lead less than four minutes in on a jumper by Kenney just after she fed McKinney for a layup. The lead grew to eight at 15-7 on a free throw by McKinney and again at 17-9 on a layup by Plaisance off another Kenney assist.
West Virginia came back to outscore the Lady Tigers 12-2 from the 8:12 mark to 5:20 remained to take a 27-23 lead on a layup by Caldwell.
LSU tied it up at 29 on a layup by Rhodes with 3:38 to play in the first half and regained the lead at 33-32 on a two free throws by Ballard, who led all scorers in the first half with 12.
In 12 minutes, Kenney had two points, two assists and a steal. She entered the game second on the team in scoring with 11.6 points and 3.5 assists a game through 29 starts and 32 games with a team-high 113 assists – 32 more than her closest teammate in that category.