Last Modified: Friday, December 21, 2012 6:04 PM
BATON ROUGE — It was a resilient effort from McNeese State, but too many fouls and LSU’s late-game commitment to feeding the tallest player on the floor led the Lady Tigers to a come-from-behind 82-75 win over the Cowgirls Friday afternoon at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
“Obviously, we’re proud of our kids,” said Cowgirls coach Brooks Donald Williams. “I thought they played a great game. We’ve come a long way this fall. We’ve had some tough road games and our young ones have had to grow up quickly. Today was the best toughness we’ve seen so far.”
It was a far cry from last season’s meeting between the teams at Burton Coliseum, which LSU led the whole way in a 21-point rout.
The Cowgirls (4-5) led for most of the game, going up as many as 10 points twice in the first half, and holding a 11-point advantage with 10 minutes left in the game. But thanks to a spate of early fouls — McNeese was called for three in the first 25 seconds of the second half, including one on Caitlyn Baggett receiving the inbounds pass to start the half — every foul on the Cowgirls late in the game resulted in two shots for the Tigers.
LSU (8-3) scored 17 of its 23 points from the free-throw line in the final 6 minutes, finishing 34-for-47 from the stripe in the game. The Cowgirls were called for 34 fouls.
“It’s a tough loss, because we did control most of the game,” said senior guard Ashlyn Baggett. “There were some unlucky plays and our defense kind of broke down. They’re a good team, there’s a reason they are winning. Yet there’s nothing more we could have done. We left everything on the floor. So I’m very proud of our team.”
Four McNeese players fouled out, including co-team-high scorer Alaina Verdin (15 points), who departed with 43 seconds to play. Ashlyn Baggett and forwards Cecilia Okoye and Arianna James were also picked up five fouls.
“I really can’t (recall four starters fouling out),” Donald Williams said.
Ashlyn Baggett, who scored 15, bailed out her coach when a question about officiating was posed in the postgame press conference.
“It’s frustrating as a player when you’re team is in foul trouble,” Baggett said. “But it just comes with the game. The referees are doing the best that they can.”
LSU coach Nikki Caldwell could at least relate to McNeese’s plight, and her own team was whistled for 20 fouls in the game.
“Speaking as a former player, I like playing and letting us play,” Caldwell said. “You don’t want the game to get out of control, so there is a responsibility that the refs have. At the end of the day, we have to adjust to calls that are either made against us or go our way. You can’t really worry about that.”
Though solid free-throw shooting was paramount to LSU’s comeback, so too was the decision to make sure 6-foot-5 center Theresa Plaisance had the ball in her hands on nearly every possession in the final 6 minutes.
Plaisance scored 11 of LSU’s final 23 points, tying Danielle Ballard with a game-high 21. Plaisance also had 14 rebounds, including a key putback of her own missed free throw to cut McNeese’s lead to 3 with 7:30 left.
“At halftime, I drew on the board and said ‘This is the paint. This is where we are going to score,’ ” Caldwell said. “We made a conscious effort to get in the paint off of dribble-drives and back doors. We did a good job of that.”
Caldwell said that once LSU’s guards got into the paint, it made it easier to feed Plaisance down low down the stretch.
LSU finished 41.4 percent (24 of 58) from the field. McNeese shot 37.7 percent (29 of 77) from the field and 52.4 percent (11 of 21) at the free-throw line.
Despite its considerably height disadvantage, McNeese won the rebounding battle by a 49-44 margin.