BATON ROUGE - The most tumultuous week of the season for the LSU women's basketball team that featured snow travel delays, a postponed game, a season-ending illness, injuries and a death in the family was capped with one of the most inspiring efforts in Lady Tiger history and arguably the biggest win of the Nikki Caldwell era.
Junior guard Jeanne Kenney, who was questionable to play with a left foot injury and just days removed from the passing of her grandfather, poured in a career-high 22 points and nailed 5-of-5 threes as LSU shocked No. 7 Kentucky, 77-72, in front of 6,773 fans on Sunday afternoon in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
"He came to every game since I was young," said Kenney of her late grandfather. "I remember every time I would look up and we would catch eyes, he would just give me a little salute. He just always kept telling me to hold my follow through and to stop taking so many charges because I'll get hurt. But I only listened to one tonight, so he's probably still mad at me."
Kenney, a native of Baton Rouge, sprained her knee last week then had foot pain that forced her to miss Saturday's practice. Her toughness was on full display again as she made her first five shots, took two charges and broke a 64 all tie with a three that gave the Lady Tigers the lead for good with 3:49 to play.
"Jeanne Kenney responded like her grandfather would have wanted her to," said LSU head coach Nikki Caldwell. "She embodies everything that you want in a student-athlete. Today, she was one of the most courageous players that I have ever had the opportunity to coach in her display of just being out there on the court. The fact that she came back and was able to play today was a testimony to where she is as a player, but more importantly where and who she is as a person."
LSU was playing its second game in less than 72 hours as a massive snow storm postponed the Lady Tigers' contest at Missouri that was originally scheduled for Thursday night. LSU held on for a 78-74 overtime win on Friday and had a light practice on Saturday. Due to the snow storm, Kenney was unable to make it back to Louisiana for her grandfather's funeral.
With the win, the Lady Tigers took a big step in improving its NCAA Tournament resume, moving to 17-10 overall and 8-6 in Southeastern Conference play. When the official NCAA RPI is released on Monday, LSU could move into the lower 40s or even upper 30s. This all with just eight players on the roster and seven in the final four minutes against the nation's No. 7 team.
"I'm learning a lot about this team," said Caldwell. "The first thing I'm learning is they are believing in each other and in this program and what this program was built on. Defensively, our effort and our ability to out-rebound our opponent the last six games has been an indicator of a team that is on a mission. This was a great win over a great team."
The Lady Tigers have displayed their perseverance all season. Sophomore Sheila Boykin was diagnosed with Guillian-Barre syndrome early in the week and will miss the remainder of the season. Meanwhile, junior forward Shanece McKinney injured her knee late in the game on Sunday.
For the third time in two years, Kentucky (23-4, 11-3 SEC) was upset by LSU. The Wildcats, who beat the Lady Tigers earlier this season in Lexington, lost in Baton Rouge last season and then again in an SEC Tournament semifinal game last March.
Theresa Plaisance charted her fifth double-double of the season with 20 points and a game-high 13 rebounds, representing the highest rebound total of her career in an SEC game. Plaisance reached double-figures for the 26th consecutive game, the longest streak by an LSU player since Sylvia Fowles did it in 26 straight during her junior year of 2006-07.
Senior guard Bianca Lutley scored 15 points for the second consecutive game, while freshman Danielle Ballard had 10 points and three steals. Ballard has recorded 82 steals on the season, just four shy of the LSU freshman record and 11 short of the school single-season milestone.
McKinney tied a career high with five blocked shots in 30 minutes before leaving to injury.
LSU shot a blistering 64 percent in the first half with five threes to take a 43-32 lead on the Wildcats at halftime. The Lady Tigers put together a 7-0 run and Kenney put LSU ahead for double-digits for the first time with a three with 1:05 on the clock.
LSU maintained its lead through most of the second half. Plaisance's jumper made it 61-53 with 8:51 to go, but UK struck for a 13-3 spurt that tied the game. A'dia Mathies' lay-up put the score at 64 all with 4:03 to play.
Without hesitation, Kenney confidently answered firing in another three that brought the crowd to its feet. Mathies turned it over and on LSU's ensuing possession, Kenney stroked another jumper. Plaisance made two free throws with 0:51 to go that pushed the LSU lead to 73-66.
The Lady Tigers converted four free throws in the final four seconds and held on for the victory. LSU finished at 52.9 percent from the floor - the second-highest allowed by UK all season -- and out-rebounded its sixth straight opponent, 34-32. The Lady Tigers also connected for a season-best 7-of-10 from three-point range, the most allowed by the Wildcats all year.
Mathies finished with 20 points to lead Kentucky.
LSU hosts Alabama in its final regular season home game of the season at 7 p.m. CT Thursday. "Senior Night" festivities that will recognize Adrienne Webb and Bianca Lutley will be held prior to the game.
LSU HEAD COACH NIKKI CALDWELL
"It's good to be back after our long trip to Missouri. I'm learning a lot about this team. The first thing I'm learning is that they are believing in each other and in this program and what this program was built on. Defensively, our effort and our ability to rebound our opponent the last six games has been an indicator of a team that is on a mission. This was a great win over a great team."
On the Recent Passing of the Grandfather of Junior Guard Jeanne Kenney ...
"Jeanne Kenney responded like her grandfather would have wanted her to. She is somebody who has always been unselfish. She embodies everything that you want in a student athlete. Today she was one of the most courageous players that I have had the opportunity to coach in her display of just being out there on the court. She is someone who you just have a lot of respect for in being able to put that aside and perform like she did today. Her teammates rallied around her. She is someone who gives us confidence. The fact that she came back and was able to play today was a testimony to where she is as a player, but more importantly where and who she is as a person."
On Junior Forward Shanece McKinney...
"We rely on Shanece McKinney to be our defensive stopper. We allow her to go toe-to-toe with some of the best offensive players in the game. We look for McKinney for that role and she has answered that role. Today, blocking those shots and contesting those shots definitely altered Kentucky's post-game. She had some key rebounds as well. That's what McKinney does."
On Senior Guards Adrienne Webb and Bianca Lutley...
"Although today was not her best defensive day, I thought Adrienne Webb did some great things for us defensively. Webb is one of those players who is a dream to coach. Everyday when she comes to practice she is ready to go. You never have to question her effort or how hard she is going to play. When you put her through drills or sprint work, it's not a matter of just getting through it; she tries to dominate it. She is very competitive. Through her hard work and work ethic, she has been a great leader for us. Bianca Lutley is one of those players that you know is very talented and can do a lot of different things. She has been able to do that for us. We are going to miss Webb and Lutley. They bring a lot of joy to our team, but we still have a lot of ball games to play and those two are going to continue to do great things for us."
FORWARD THERESA PLAISANCE
On Theresa's view on Jeanne's performance tonight...
"Let me make this very clear: I have been playing basketball with Jeanne since I was 10-years old, and I am not surprised by her performance tonight. With that being said, Jeanne is one of the most unselfish players on this so in any given game, she'll pass up her shot to get another person open. Jeanne's not always looking for herself but tonight she really stepped up big for us. She took those shots because she and I know that she can knock them down. But I am not surprised by Jeanne's performance at all because this is Jeanne. She knocks out shots in really big situations like this."
On the game plan before playing Kentucky...
"It's all about patience. Right now, we're running low on numbers, so we have to not conserve energy but also not play fast paced where other teams are more comfortable doing. We just have to take them out of their comfort zone by playing our game and being patient with what we do. They can hurry their shots up, but we're going to slow the ball down. We need to be patient with our shots and not take the first open look. I think that really helped us out tonight because patience is the key right now."
GUARD JEANNE KENNEY
On not hesitating on any of her 3-point shots...
"I was surprised at myself when I shot the first three when I got in the game and it was just uphill form there. You just don't think about it when you know how to shoot. If you have room, you're going to shoot it if you're a shooter. Even though I haven't been scoring lately in the season, I still can and my teammates were great in in giving me open looks and passing the ball to me and trusting me to score."
On passed grandfather's role in Kenney's life and in basketball...
"He came to every game since I was young. I remember every time I would look up and we would catch eyes, he would just give me a little salute. He's going to be missed, but he always wore a little number five pin. My family has a little thing with the number five and he always wore it. He just always kept telling me to hold my follow through and to stop taking so many charges because I'll get hurt. But I only listened to one tonight so he's probably still mad at me."
On Kenney's game being a "dedication game"...
"I felt that my mindset was that the Missouri game was going to be the dedication game, but I went in there and did too much. I honestly didn't try to think about that because once you put emotions into it, the more it affects the game. My teammates were just there the whole time. They gave me the screen, the passes and the emotion needed to win."
HEAD COACH MATTHEW MITCHELL
Opening statement ...
"That was a terrific game. It's a hard one to lose, but LSU just played a great game of basketball and executed at the crucial moments. They had a really good day on offense, and we just couldn't slow them down. I didn't think we played poorly, but in a game like today you have to be razor sharp, and we weren't. We were just pretty good. LSU really took it to us, and we just have to give them a lot of credit. They just played a great game, and they beat us today."
On LSU's Jeanne Kenney ...
"I think that would have to be one of her better days. She had a great, great game. She sensed what her team needed, and she made plays. That's another mental mistake that we made, that in this game you couldn't make, and it turned out that they won. We've played a lot of games where we've made mental mistakes, and we haven't been burned very many times, but today was the kind of game that you have to play very, very sharp. We didn't."
On the physicality of the game ...
"I think it was a pretty physical game. I guess we were more physical than they were. If you look at the foul shots, we were clearly the more physical team, and we paid for it. Anytime they make more than you attempt, that's a really, really difficult stat to overcome. They did a good job getting to the free throw line, and we did not. I think that was a big factor in the game. I think the league's physical. It's crunch time for a lot of people. The players are playing hard and want to win, so it's tough out there. I just thought LSU played so hard and really executed and made great, great plays to win. They certainly deserved to win today, they were outstanding."