A few halftime adjustments helped the LSU women's basketball team erase a 10-point halftime deficit Sunday afternoon to beat Alabama 85-66.
First, coach Kim Mulkey decided to let Last-Tear Poa start the second half in place of Hailey Van Lith. Then, she engaged the No. 13 Tigers' full-court press and told them to switch their coverages of Alabama's ball screens.
The tweaks worked. In the third quarter, the LSU defense forced six turnovers and a five-second violation. Poa scored four points and took two charges. And the LSU offense, which struggled to find a rhythm throughout the first half, received a jolt of energy that sparked it on a 10-1 run across the first five minutes of the second half.
"There was a period of time in that first half where we looked terrible," Mulkey said. "Terribly out of shape, just struggling. At halftime, what did I say to them? Today's Sunday, so it was like prayer meeting."
The Tigers (21-4, 8-3 Southeastern Conference) first re-took the lead at the 6:21 mark of the third quarter, when they perfectly executed a baseline-out-of-bounds play to give Angel Reese a wide-open layup. On the next few possessions, Mikaylah Williams nailed a crafty midrange jumper and a wing 3-pointer on a fast break.
Then, Reese blocked an Alabama guard’s floater attempt, and the loose ball leaked out to Poa, who picked it up on the fast break, drove right and dished a nifty behind-the-back pass to set up a Flau’jae Johnson layup that gave LSU a 59-50 lead.
"With us struggling in the first half and being down 10," Aneesah Morrow said, "we needed that momentum, and we needed to feed off one another, and we needed that energy. So, I feel like it helped us a lot."
Mulkey said after the game that she started Poa in the second half because LSU needed her for its full-court press.?
"(Poa) does what she needs to do to help her team win on the defensive end," Mulkey said. "She's just not afraid."
In the third quarter, the Tigers outscored Alabama 30-9 and took a 61-50 lead into the fourth. With the flurry of points, LSU completely changed the rhythm and flow of the game, which Alabama (19-7, 6-5) controlled for the entire first half because the Tigers ceded too many open 3-pointers.
The eight triples that the Crimson Tide buried across the first and second quarters gave it a 41-31 halftime lead. On offense, LSU simply couldn’t keep up. It shot 31% from the field in the first half, missed all six of its 3-pointers and struggled to toss entry passes to Reese, who Alabama fronted and doubled in the post.
The Tide created its open 3s in a variety of ways.
Karly Weathers hit one from the left corner after a dribble drive pulled Van Lith off her position on the weak side and into the paint. Aaliyah Nye buried one after a loose ball scrambled the LSU defense, forcing it to vacate the right corner. Then, late in the second quarter, Sarah Ashlee Barker sank one after a screen caught Poa at the top of the key.?
LSU adjusted with a zone defense and forced three misses. And Reese faked a crossover, spun and drove to the rim for an open layup that cut the Alabama lead to 35-28 at the 3:03 mark.
But with a mid-range jumper, a pair of free throws and an open layup, the Tide widened its lead, which LSU quickly erased once it adjusted in the third quarter.
"I thought it was gut-check time for us in the second half," Mulkey said. "I thought it took leadership. I thought it took, obviously, skill. But it took a lot of effort to get back in that ball game, and to do it quick enough to where you could extend the lead."
Reese led the way for LSU with 27 points, 19 rebounds and six assists on 11 of 20 shooting. Johnson scored 16. Williams chipped in 14 with nine rebounds. Morrow added five steals. And Poa scored a career-high 11 points, to pair with six rebounds, four assists, two blocks and a steal.?
In the second half, LSU outscored Alabama 54-25, and the Tide shot just 29.6% from the field, while the Tigers converted 51.3% of their looks. Overall, LSU scored 42 more paint points than Alabama, who converted six of its 18 3-point attempts across the second and third quarters.?
LSU won’t play again until Monday, Feb. 19, when it travels to College Station, Texas, to take on Texas A&M.