Jan. 3, 2010
|Valerie Nainima and Kelsey Bone
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) – LSU coach Van Chancellor never stops coaching. Maybe that’s why he and the Lady Tigers are so successful.
Chancellor came in to meet the media after No. 11 LSU’s 70-58 victory over South Carolina on Sunday, praising senior star Allison Hightower for her 23 points, her 50 percent shooting, her four blocks and four steas.
“But I’d like to have just a few more rebounds. Can I get that?” he asked, sincerely.
Hightower nodded, then headed back to the locker room.
It’s a good bet Hightower will up her performance on the boards from the four she had against South Carolina when the Lady Tigers play at Arkansas on Thursday night.
Although she did pretty well to help LSU to its 13th straight win over South Carolina (7-6).
“It’s going to be a long season,” Hightower said. “This is going to help our confidence.”
Particularly if the Lady Tigers get off to the kind of start they did at the Colonial Life Arena, using a 32-6 run to take control and open Southeastern Conference play 1-0 for the eighth straight season.
“Those first 16 minutes were probably the best basketball we’ve played this year,” Chancellor said.
Hightower was right in the middle of it. She started the surge with a jumper and had seven more points in the run. Latear Eason added three 3-pointers, her final one leading to a five-point play as teammate LaSondra Barrett was fouled as Eason released her shot. Barrett made both free throws to put LSU ahead 38-15.
After South Carolina cut things to 52-43 in the second half, Hightower again took charge with a 3-pointer and a pair of foul shots.
Barrett added 16 points for LSU.
The Lady Tigers improved to 12-1, matching their start from three seasons ago, a year that ended with a run to the Final Four.
Chancellor – the Olympic head coach for the last of South Carolina coach Dawn Staley’s three gold-medal winning clubs – collected career win No. 500 in the Lady Tigers previous game, a 56-47 victory over 15th-ranked Xavier last Wednesday.
The Lady Tigers made No. 501 look much easier with their big first-half run.
Chancellor was relieved to go on the road and pull out victory after watching his team’s 23-point lead shrink to single digits. “If you lose in the SEC, it digs a hole that you spend all season trying to dig out of,” he said.
LSU’s not likely to fall too far this SEC season. It does not face any of the three other ranked league teams until a matchup with No. 4 Tennessee in three weeks.
Staley, South Carolina’s second-year coach, said her team’s slow start cost it the opportunity for a signature SEC victory.
“We’ll figure it out,” she said. “At practice, we’re always figuring out what works and what doesn’t with a young basketball team.”
V alerie Nainima led South Carolina with 13 points. Six-foot-5 freshman Kelsey Bone had nine points and 12 rebounds. But LSU’s defense in the middle forced her into six of the Gamecocks’ 19 turnovers.
Hightower, the LSU star, was happy with the win, and just as happy her team has some work ahead of it to improve. She said Chancellor told the club they had played just 22 minutes of good, solid basketball.
“Just finishing and playing the whole 40 minutes,” she said. “Every night is going to be a battle in the SEC. We’ve got to be ready.”