BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — LSU coach Kim Mulkey dismissed the notion that her team’s narrow escape on its own court against a 14th seed from a non-power conference signified that the third-seeded Tigers looked vulnerable in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
The proof will come in how the Tigers perform on Monday night against No. 6 seed Ohio State (24-6) in their second-round game in the Spokane Region.
LSU had to rally from 10 points down against Jackson State within the final five minutes on Saturday night. But there has been no talk among Mulkey or her players about wake-up calls.
“I just felt like it was a Jackson State team that got on a roll and played good, and we had to fight back,” Mulkey said Sunday. “How could you criticize anything that was done on that floor yesterday? I don’t care if we’re a 3 seed.
“Think about where this senior group has been,” Mulkey added. “They won nine basketball games last year. And for them to get to the NCAA Tournament is special, to finish second in our league is more special, and being a host is the most special.”
Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff, who remained with his players in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center to watch the LSU game, echoed Mulkey’s take.
“I can’t imagine there’s a more talented 14 seed than Jackson State,” McGuff said of the Southwestern Athletic Conference champions, who rode a 21-game winning streak into their matchup with LSU. “That wasn’t some fluky thing. … It was actually great for LSU because they got tested and they really had to execute down the stretch.”
Monday night’s matchup will feature two of the nation’s top guards: The Tigers’ Khayla Pointer and the Buckeyes’ Jacy Sheldon, who both thrived under pressure when their teams faced double-digit deficits in the first round.
Pointer hit a go-ahead 3 in the final minute to give her a game-high 26 points against Jackson State. Sheldon scored a game-high 25 against Missouri State.
Sheldon was expected to play shooting guard this season, but had to switch to point guard when teammate Madison Green had a knee injury that wiped out her season.
McGuff said he was nervous about having Sheldon initiate the offense from the point, “because we count on her so much for scoring.”
But Sheldon has still led the team in scoring at nearly 20 points per game and was named first-team All Big Ten.
“That just really kind of speaks to her character, to be able to make that adjustment and not miss a beat,” McGuff said. “It’s a really tough thing to do.”
Not that McGuff is surprised the daughter of a former small college basketball coach (ex-Baldwin Wallace coach Duane Sheldon) could pull it off.
“She’s been well schooled in the game of basketball since birth — and it shows,” he said.
Pointer is an AP second-team All American who is averaging 19.2 points per game and is one of just two players in LSU history to have multiple career triple doubles.
And as Mulkey notes, Pointer is exceedingly difficult to guard one-on-one.
“Khayla Pointer can get by anybody,” Mulkey said.
“DEAF DOME” ADVANTAGE
LSU’s dome-roofed arena was nicknamed the “Deaf Dome” by renowned college basketball commentator Dick Vitale decades ago for how loud a large crowd can get in the stadium.
Nearly 8,000 spectators attended LSU’s first-round game and players thought the crowd influenced the game when the Tigers were making their late comeback.
“The fans, the energy, was crazy,” guard Ryan Payne said. “I never experienced anything like that in my life. So let’s just keep it going.”
Ohio State players took note while watching LSU’s game.
“It was really impressive. I love to see a crowd that big supporting women’s basketball,” Buckeyes forward Braxtin Miller said. “It’s going to be definitely challenging.”
Ohio State forward Tanya Beacham said composure will be at a premium for the Buckeyes.
“We most definitely have to come in there not trying to get every call. We have to play smart and play our game and focus on us,” Beacham said. “The crowd is going to be really hostile. … We’ve got to tune it out.”
McGuff isn’t solely concerned with how Ohio State fares in the Tournament. His daughter, Kilyn, plays for Belmont, a 12th seed in the Greensboro Region, which won its first-round game over 5th seed Oregon in double overtime Saturday night, not long after the Buckeyes survived a tense matchup with Missouri State.
“My nerves are shot,” McGuff said. “I’ve got to regroup today and get ready for tomorrow.
“It’s been a good couple days for the family,” he added. “We’ll see if we’ve got any more magic left tomorrow.”
More AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25