Theresa Plaisance (US Presswire)
LSU made a surprising run to the Sweet 16 last season, and the Lady Tigers hope that's a launching pad for the upcoming season. Nikki Caldwell and her players preview the year ahead with exhibition play starting this week.
Some would say last year’s Lady Tigers played over their head.
Despite finishing just sixth in the SEC, LSU overcame a severe lack of depth to reach the Sweet 16 of the 2013 NCAA Tournament, its deepest postseason run since 2008. With that taste of success still on their lips, this year’s team hopes to build off what it accomplished a season ago with sights set on the Final Four in Nashville.
“We understand that there’s a lot of basketball, a lot of games, and a lot of practices before that day arrives,” said LSU coach Nikki Caldwell. “So that’s our destination. We know that’s where we want to go, but so do all the other teams. In order for us to do that, we focus on what is our daily goal.”
According to Caldwell, that daily goal is attitude. Though expectations have certainly risen for this program — the Lady Tigers opened at No. 17 in the initial Coaches’ Poll — Caldwell wants her players to stay grounded in order to return this team to the prominence its fan base desires.
“Every year I’ve been here we’ve gotten a step better,” said senior forward Shanece McKinney. “This year, we’re just trying to build on that, get to the Final Four and bring that tradition back to LSU.”
With National Championship aspirations surrounding this team, the Lady Tigers also have a National Player of the Year candidate to promote.
Senior forward Theresa Plaisance enters this season considered one of the best post players in the country. She was recently added to the watch list for the Wooden Award, which goes to the nation’s best college basketball player.
Despite becoming LSU’s first SEC scoring champion since Seimone Augustus, Plaisance said she has modest expectations for her numbers this season, and that isn’t a bad thing.
“We have a whole lot of great players that can contribute this year,” Plaisance said. “My expectations really aren’t for me. It’s for this team. At the end of the day, I just want this team to win.”
The added depth on this year’s team is one major reason for optimism. Starting in the frontcourt, Plaisance and McKinney are the clear starters, but Caldwell also has high expectations for sophomore Derreyal Youngblood and Sheila Boykin, who missed the end of last season after being diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome but has since returned to practice.
Caldwell also mentioned the possibility of throwing guards Jeanne Kenney, Danielle Ballard and Anne Pederson into the four when LSU goes into its guard-heavy sets.
“It’s going to be a scout-specific situation,” Caldwell said. “But the fact that these players can play multiple positions allows us that versatility.”
At guard is where LSU placed its biggest emphasis during the offseason. Caldwell brought in four new guards to this team, none bigger than freshman Raigyne Moncrief, who’s already earned a spot in the starting lineup.
“She has all the talent that any player who has ever played here has had,” Caldwell said. “To say that she could by far be one of the best players to wear purple and gold is up to her. With her skill and her will and bringing that combination together, nothing but greatness exists in her.”
Caldwell said plugging in Moncrief at point guard could have the biggest benefit for Ballard, who can now spend more time off the ball.
“That’s a fun position for me,” Ballard said. “I love being off the ball, so that releases all the pressure from being a point guard. I can think more. I can just do my thing being the player I know I can be off the ball, so it’s going to be great.”
We’ll learn soon how this team comes together as the Lady Tigers open the season Wednesday with an exhibition against Tennessee Temple. And while there’s certainly a long way to go, Caldwell and her players know what it needs to accomplish this season.
“If we’re not taking care of business right here and right now, we’ll fall short of our goal,” Caldwell said. “When you have the support that we receive from our fans, it’s an insult if you’re not playing in that NCAA Tournament.”
Give us your predictions for the Lady Tigers
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