No. 9 LSU (18-2, 5-1 SEC) will host No. 1 South Carolina (17-0, 5-0 SEC) in arguably the biggest home game of Kim Mulkey’s tenure on Thursday night.
The last two national titles have been won by either LSU or South Carolina and this is the second year in a row that both of these teams will face off against each other in a Top 10 matchup. Even though there have been countless Top 10 matchups at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, this matchup is a rarity at the arena.
This is only the third time in the history of the PMAC that a Top 10 LSU team, regardless of men’s or women’s, has hosted the No. 1 team in the country. The last time this type of matchup happened was on Feb. 14, 2008, when No. 9 LSU defeated No. 1 Tennessee 78-62 back when LSU and Tennessee were the two best teams in women’s college basketball.
LSU, who has the No. 1 scoring offense in the country averaging 91.6 points per game and 11th in field goal percentage, will be going against arguably the best defense in women’s college basketball as South Carolina is No. 1 in both field goal percentage allowed and blocks. The Gamecocks are also fifth nationally in points allowed per game.
The game will also feature two of the best coaches in the sports of basketball Mulkey and South Carolina’s Dawn Staley. Mulkey has 710 wins and four national titles (three with Baylor and one at LSU) while Staley has 419 wins and two national titles which were both won at South Carolina.
According to Vegas, LSU is a 9.5-point underdog to South Carolina, which is unfamiliar territory for the Tigers, especially at home. If the Tigers want to pull off the upset, here are the four keys to victory for LSU.
Stay Out of Foul Trouble
Okay, this is an obvious one as this is a cardinal rule in basketball. Nevertheless, LSU absolutely cannot break this obvious rule tonight because of LSU’s lack of depth. After forward Samyah Smith was lost for the year due to a season-ending knee injury and veteran guard Kateri Poole left the team, LSU has gone seven-deep in terms of personnel.
South Carolina can go nine or 10 deep because of the experience and talent they have on their roster. South Carolina also has five players averaging at least 10 points.
If there is anyone that needs to stay out of foul trouble it’s Angel Reese. Reese will be very critical if the Tigers want to pull off the upset because of her presence in the paint and she is quite possibly the only one who could guard South Carolina forward Kamilla Cardoso down low.
Get Kamilla Cardoso Off the Court
Speaking of Cardoso, LSU will have to try to get her into foul trouble so she can get off the court. Cardoso is averaging 13.3 points and 10.7 rebounds per game on offense. However, her biggest impact is on defense where she is averaging 2.9 blocks per game, which is the sixth-best in the country.
Moreover, she will be the tallest player on the court at 6 feet, 7 inches tall. Cardoso is four inches taller than Reese and that’s a big height advantage. If LSU can find a way to get her off the court by drawing fouls, her absence on the court should allow LSU’s offense to flow more freely.
They Need to Score Outside the Paint
I’m not saying LSU cannot score in the paint as it is their bread and butter. However, they need to be less hesitant to shoot the ball from the perimeter.
South Carolina doesn’t like to shoot it from the outside either as the Gamecocks are 268th nationally in 3-point attempts. However, South Carolina is 68th in 3-pointers made and first in 3-point field goal percentage (44.1%).
LSU, on the other hand, is 330th in 3-pointers attempted and 303rd in 3-pointers made. It’s not because they aren’t a good three-point shooting team (94th nationally) but it’s more so that their comfort zone is scoring on the inside. However, with Cardoso and Ashlynn Watkins on the inside, they need to find other ways to score.
Hailey Van Lith Has to Be Involved
LSU guard Hailey van Lith has been solid this year as he is averaging 11.6 points per game and leads the team with assists with 4.6 assists per game. However, she needs to be very much involved in this game.
Van Lith has to be aggressive because too often this season hasn’t looked for her shot and has deferred to Reese or Mikaylah Williams. She is at her best when she can find her shot and drives down the lane to draw fouls to get to the foul line.
If Van Lith is relentless tonight, LSU will be a tough team to beat, especially at home in front of over 13,000 fans.