March 20, 2009

(AP) - There was a point last month when LSU coach Van Chancellor thought his team wouldn't even make the NCAA tournament, let alone have a chance to reach the Final Four for the sixth straight year.

But after a late-season surge, the sixth-seeded Tigers begin that very quest Sunday when they host No. 11 seed Wisconsin-Green Bay in what likely will be a defensive struggle in the first round at Baton Rouge.

One of only two teams in NCAA history to make five consecutive Final Fours, the Tigers (18-10) were in danger of having a 10-year run of reaching the field of 64 end when they dropped to 12-9 after a 66-55 home loss to then-No. 5 Auburn on Feb. 1. But LSU regrouped with six straight wins and finished third in the always-rugged SEC before eventually losing in the tournament semifinals to Vanderbilt and garnering an at-large bid.

"When we were 12-9 overall we thought we might be on spring break today," Chancellor admitted Tuesday after the pairings were announced. "Our team has accomplished so much in the last seven games. This team has accomplished as much as any team I've been around."

Junior guard Allison Hightower is averaging a team-high 14.2 points for the Tigers, who scored only 59.3 points per game and made only 58 3-pointers - 34 of them by Andrea Kelly. But LSU has a standout defense that limited opponents to an average of 53.0 points - good for sixth in Division I but also its worst in the last three seasons - and 35.6 percent shooting while forcing 16.9 turnovers per game.

Hightower also led the Tigers with 52 steals, one of five players with at least 22.

Wisconsin-Green Bay (29-3) currently leads all Division I teams in scoring defense at 50.2 points per game, which would place it fourth all-time in NCAA history - behind LSU teams from 2007 and 2008 that rank first and third, respectively, around the 2005 Delaware State squad. The Phoenix also finished the season tied for fourth nationally with 392 steals, with Celeste Hoewisch and Kati Harty combining for 156.

The Horizon League champions allowed more than 64 points just once and carry a 21-game winning streak into this contest, the second-longest active run in the country and second longest in school history.

Wisconsin-Green Bay has been consistent offensively, averaging 66.1 points and shooting 38.2 percent from 3-point range. Senior center Lavesa Glover averages a team-high 11.1 points and is one of three players scoring in double figures along with Hoewisch (10.4 ppg) and fellow senior Rachel Porath (10.5).

Porath also made 45.8 percent of her 3-point attempts, while Harty has converted 42.9 percent of her attempts from beyond the arc.

LSU won the only meeting between the teams, an 80-69 victory in the second round of the 2003 NCAA tournament. The winner of this game will play the winner between No. 3 seed Louisville and 14th-seeded Liberty in the second round on Tuesday.