The No. 7 LSU Tigers women’s basketball team (8-1) spent most of November in a tailspin.
After losing to No. 8 Colorado in a shocking upset; LSU ditched its starting lineup, repeatedly struggled on perimeter defense, lost standout sophomore forward Sa’Myah Smith to a brutal knee injury, and played without all-American Angel Reese.
LSU struggled to pull away from Kent State and Southeastern (finally pulling away after the half) and barely beat a Virginia picked to finish 10th in the ACC.
The Tigers never quite looked like the nation’s top team.
That is until the last day of November. The Tigers pummeled then No. 9 Virginia Tech (5-2) 82-64 in a rematch of the Final Four.
LSU played its original starting lineup for just the second time this season with significantly improved chemistry. LSU held the usually hot Hokies perimeter offense to a season worst 4-21 from three.
Most importantly though, Reese was back and played solid with 19 points and 9 rebounds.
Had LSU lost and Reese played poorly, the team would have spent its 10-day break with more questions and more drama.
Thankfully, that is not going to be the case.
Instead, the drama around the Tigers allowed LSU to put all eyes on its big win (it was the most watched sporting event of the day other than the Dallas Cowboys game). The Tigers alleviated much of the doubt around them and silenced many of their critics.
Those eyes also got to see junior transfer Aneesah Morrow and freshman Mikaylah Williams star. That might not be a surprise to LSU fans (Morrow and Williams have been bright spots all season), but for the national audience this was their coming out party.
Morrow was rightfully one of the most highly sought after transfers in the portal. However, there were doubters who wondered if she could perform at that level away from DePaul. She dominated with 19 points and 16 rebounds.
Williams was also highly sought after as one of the top recruits in the country. She put up 20 points leading the way for LSU and shot 60%, including 80% from within the arc.
Williams was one of the top recruits in the nation and while LSU has not had to lean on her as much as some of the other top freshmen in the country, she is every bit as good.
Williams is in the top 15 in the nation in three-point percentage and top 10 amongst guards in field goal percentage. She is one of just four players to score over 40 this season, scoring 42 against Kent State (15-25 from the field in thar game).
Lastly, the win provided LSU with a much-needed quality win which is something the Tigers struggled to claim most of last season.
LSU played just one power conference opponent in the nonconference last season and a weaker than usual SEC left many people questioning their resume. This year they have played three already, but more importantly beat a team expected to contend in the ACC.
Had they lost, the Tigers would be 0-2 versus ranked opponents in the nonconference. Unfortunately, Virginia Tech is. The Hokies will have more opportunities in a tough ACC.
LSU will not.
The SEC, coming off a year with 4 Sweet 16 teams, is unexpectedly weak leaving the Tigers with only one more ranked opponent (No. 1 South Carolina) on the schedule.
The SEC took some ugly losses. Marshall, Kent State, Southern Miss, Chattanooga, Belmont, Austin Peay, and Saint Louis all beat SEC teams.
That makes the win all the more vital. LSU’s resume for getting a top seed, and hosting in general, could not take the hit of losing that game. Were the Tigers to lose to South Carolina, LSU might fall out of hosting entirely in a weak SEC.
That is not a position they want to be in, and they will not be in it.
It was a win LSU need for pride, resume, attention, silence and plenty of other reasons. The Tigers got it.