January 19, 2012
7:00 PM EST
TV: CSS / ESPN3
Internet Audio: Lady Vols Network
Live Stats: GameTracker
13-4 (4-1 SEC)
13-4 (4-1 SEC)
Tonight is another Teacher/Student match in the SEC, with Pat Summitt facing Nikki Caldwell at LSU for the first time. LSU/Tennessee was the best SEC rivalry during the first decade of the 2000s, but has slipped as of late due to the decline of LSU under Van Chancellor. In this first match, Caldwell is dealt a bit of a short hand as the talent on the team is not where it once was (more on that in a bit). In the meantime, the trollgaze lands squarely on Lady Tigers fans we at Tennessee (okay, just Chris and me, but still) see this as Caldwell's first time coaching in her eventual destination as the heir apparent to the Summitt throne.
(Note: at time of writing, Stricklen's status was uncertain. She is likely not playing, but her replacement in the starting lineup is unknown.)
LSU is a bizarre team to understand and are best understood by first knowing where they came from. After the Pokey Chatman scandal forced her resignation in early 2007, Van Chancellor went to LSU to coach in the 2007-2008 season. Riding off the immense talent that Chatman had brought in, he went undefeated in SEC play and went to LSU's fourth consecutive Final Four. But after that year, LSU lost seven seniors (!!), including Sylvia Fowles, they never recovered. Their 30-win seasons became 20 win seasons and their Final Fours fell to 2nd round loss, and then eventually missing the tournament entirely. Nikki inherited a team that had been largely recruited with hopes of continuing LSU's success, but beaten down with the reality of a coach who was ready to retire. And so the rebuilding began.
Caldwell decided to rebuild the defense first, and LSU's defense is stout. Their opponents have averaged 47.5 points per game (and 48.4 in conference). LSU also averages over 40 rebounds, 5 blocks and 10 steals per game, with much of the defensive production coming from the bench (especially young trees Krystal Forthan, Taylor Turnbow, and Shanece McKinney). Playing LSU is an exercise in frustration on an entirely different level from Kentucky; where the Wildcats prefer to keep you from getting the ball across halfcourt, LSU adds a smothering halfcourt to their press.
The offense has not been as sharp as the defense, and LSU averages 64.6 points per game. But here's where the oddities in the stats begin to surface: they're one of the lowest-scoring teams in the SEC, but they have averaged a very good 44.7% from the field. It's indicative of a team that doesn't see a lot of possessions, partly due to taking a long time on offense and partly due to forcing opponents deep into the shotclock.
LSU does not shoot many threes and don't really have a dedicated three-point threat. Barrett is their most accurate shooter at 48.5%, but has taken just under 2 attempts per game. This game will not look like the Vanderbilt game, where the Commodores would dedicate up to 4 total players to free up Foggie for a shot. LSU wants the ball in the paint, and Tennessee will have to commit to denying the entry pass.
Prediction: 71 - 55 Tennessee. Fewer possessions but a couple breaks and a second half run to end it.
BassWatch™: 5 minutes left in the first. No more wonky lineups.
Chris: Nikki Caldwell would do well to learn from how the Tennessee lineup operates - or at least should operate. She's done a fantastic job turning LSU around (something we'd expect from a former
and future Lady Vol), and once again the Lady Vols run into a former Summitt disciple who preaches and practices defense and rebounding. The difference? LSU doesn't have an answer to Vicki Baugh, let alone Glory Johnson. Given Stricklen's injury (and - no offense, Tigers - how much next Monday night matters), I'd be happy to let her sit out a game in favor of Baugh, who has a great tandem attack with Glory going at the moment. I'd be concerned where the other points are coming from - I'm reluctant to say Simmons, even though in theory this could be a great game for her to shoot daggers - but LSU's offense isn't anything to write home about. I'd be happy to see this game won on free throws; if Simmons would be so kind as to get to the line, maybe I'll back off her a bit. This won't be particularly pretty, but unlike another team I can easily think of, the Lady Vols can win ugly.
69-48 Tennessee. Bass doesn't see the floor until the 9 minute mark of the second half. Please?
Bonus prediction: one LSU post defender fouls out.