BATON ROUGE, La. -- Rather than continue their march in the NCAA tournament with another trip to an opponent’s home floor, the second-seeded West Virginia women took a quick, late detour Tuesday night at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
Overcoming a roster that grew thin as the game wore on, No. 7 seed LSU rallied in the final minutes behind a charged-up home crowd, stealing a 76-67 victory and denying WVU a Sweet 16 bid.
“Nothing against LSU because they deserve a lot of credit,” WVU coach Mike Carey said. “But I feel we gave one away.”
Had the Mountaineers held on, they would have met No. 3 seed Louisville at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Ky., the arena where the Cardinals play their home games.
LSU (21-12) will make that trip instead, keeping WVU (30-5) from extending a season that saw the Mountaineers set a number of program benchmarks.
WVU failed to make its first Sweet 16 since 1992, a goal the Mountaineers haven’t met in eight NCAA tournaments under Carey.
Already without injured freshman Raigyne Moncrief and suspended sophomore Derreyal Youngblood, LSU became further depleted when senior guard Jeanne Kenney, the team’s second-leading scorer, reported to the locker room with 7:38 left in the first half because of concussion symptons and did not return.
Senior forwards Theresa Plaisance, the Southeastern Conference’s scoring champion as a junior, and Shanece McKinney missed chunks of the second half for LSU because of foul trouble.
But the Lady Tigers persevered, scoring 19 of the game’s final 23 points after trailing 63-56 with 5:05 left.
“I wasn’t really worried,” Plaisance said. “There was a sense of calmness going through our bench.”
Sophomore Danielle Ballard led LSU with 22 points and 15 rebounds, her second double-double in as many NCAA tournament games. Ballard, who averaged 9.3 points and 6.1 rebounds during the regular season, had 24 points and 17 rebounds in a blowout of Georgia Tech on Sunday.
McKinney had 13 points for LSU, and was a force on the inside with five blocks and seven rebounds.
LSU outrebounded WVU 55-40 with a 24-19 edge on the offensive glass.
“I said the game was going to be won or lost in the paint,” Carey said. “That’s exactly what it was.”
WVU center Asya Bussie, who missed most of the first half after picking up two early fouls, took over in the second. She finished with 21 points and eight rebounds, helping the Mountaineers — who twice trailed by eight in the first half — dig out of a nine-point hole with 17:27 to play.
Bria Holmes and Christal Caldwell scored 12 and 10 points, respectively, for WVU but combined to go only 2-of-15 from 3-point range.
“I know deep down in my heart we did not play our best game,” Caldwell said. “To go out like that, it really hurts.”
The Mountaineers, who set a program record for wins and achieved the highest regular-season ranking in school history, appeared on the cusp of a postseason breakthrough after going ahead 52-50 with 12:04 remaining.
WVU stretched that lead to 57-50 as Plaisance and McKinney watched from the bench.
But as the Lady Tigers used a 6-0 run to make it a 63-62 game with 3:30 left, the team -- and its home crowd -- began to smell a second straight Sweet 16 berth.
LSU went ahead 66-65 on a Ballard lay-up, then sealed the victory with a series of free throws in the final two minutes.
“A lot of credit to West Virginia for pushing us to our limits, and a lot of credit to these ladies for answering that call,” LSU coach Nikki Caldwell said.