22-9, 10-6 Conf
25-6, 13-3 Conf

LSU stuns No. 9 Kentucky to make SEC finals

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- LSU had a simple game plan: crowd the paint and dare Kentucky (No. 9 ESPN/USA Today, No. 10 AP) to deliver from outside.

The Wildcats took the bait, and helped the Lady Tigers on defense by sending them to the foul line over and over again.

Courtney Jones scored 18 points and LSU advanced to its ninth Southeastern Conference tournament championship game with a 72-61 victory on Saturday.

"I felt like we tried to really establish our inside game because we're big. We're going to take advantage of our size," LSU coach Nikki Caldwell said. "When we did do that, it put a lot of pressure on them to guard us, which allowed us to get to the free-throw line."

The fourth-seeded Lady Tigers (22-9) will make their first trip to the conference title game since appearing in four in a row between 2005 and 2008. Caldwell, who is in her first season at LSU, won six SEC titles as either a player or an assistant coach at Tennessee.

The Lady Tigers will face Tennessee (No. 10 ESPN/USA Today, No. 13 AP) in the title game on Sunday.

"I think LSU still hasn't had its big game yet," Jones said. "I think there's so much more to this team. We decided to come out and give all our effort and work hard because we wanted to win bad."

Top-seeded Kentucky (25-6) had lost three times en route to their first regular-season SEC title since 1982. One of those losses was a 61-51 decision on Feb. 5 in Baton Rouge. The Lady Tigers put on an offensive show in that game, converting 56.7 percent of their shots from the floor and 25 of 31 at the line.

This time, it was about strong defense and a 24-for-32 performance at the line in the second half.

LSU never trailed against Kentucky and used a 10-0 run early in the game to take control. The Lady Tigers kept the Wildcats away from the basket for most of the game and forced them to take bad shots.

"I thought they were really, really tough -- a lot tougher than us," Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said. "From the opening tip, it looked like their desire was greater than ours. They really wanted to play for a championship (Sunday)."

Though the Lady Tigers turned the ball over 14 times in the first half, they held a 22-9 rebounding advantage that turned into 10 second-chance points before the break.

LaSondra Barrett, who leads LSU with an average of 12.5 points per game, spent the first half in foul trouble and scored all 15 of her points after halftime, nine of them at the free-throw line.

LSU ripped off a 10-0 run to take a 16-6 lead with 10:13 left in the first half., and carried a 26-16 advantage into the break.

LSU built its second-half lead to 18 points with 6:23 remaining. That's when Keyla Snowden and A'dia Mathies attempted to get Kentucky back in the game from the perimeter.

With the Lady Tigers up 59-41, Snowden sank back-to-back 3-pointers, and Mathies hit a jumper with 1:53 to play that helped the Wildcats pull within nine points, but it was as close as they would get. Mathies finished with 18 points and Snowden had 17 points.

"We need to get in the gym and get some shots up and get confidence back," Snowden said. "I think a lot of people are lacking confidence in their shots, their abilities right now."