Defending champion LSU fortunate to get out of round one intact, now faces a strong Middle Tennessee State team on Sunday

Aneesah Morrow's 15 points and seven rebounds helped LSU overcome a sloppy first round game against Rice. PHOTO by Jonathan Mailhes

Usually, if you turn the ball over 24 times in any basketball game, you lose.

If your opponent converts those turnovers into 16 points, it deepens those dreadful losing odds.

Add to that, your best player has her worst offensive game shooting – maybe ever.

That’s what happened to No. 3 seed LSU on Friday afternoon in the first round of the Albany 2 Regional of the NCAA Tournament at the PMAC in Baton Rouge.

But defending champion LSU managed to survive and pull out a 70-60 win over No. 14 Rice despite playing what Kim Mulkey called a “selfish” and “sloppy” game and will now live at least another day.

 A late third quarter run that allowed LSU to open an 11-point lead ultimately did the feisty Owls in.

Aneesah Morrow led LSU with 15 points while Flau’jae Johnson and Makayla Williams had 14 points. Angel Reese, who made only 1 of 7 field goals, added 10 points but did dominate the boards with 19 rebounds, recording her 24th double-double of the season.

“To emphasize the good things, we did hold them to below 39.9 from the field,” LSU coach Kim Mulkey said.

“You’re going to win games when you do that. We didn’t shoot it bad, with the exception of a couple of players. I thought the other players had good shooting percentages in the shots that they took. I thought we got to the foul line, like we have all year.”

LSU (29-5) made it to the free throw line 31 times and made 22 while Rice (19-15) scored six points from the from the charity stripe in eight attempts – all coming in the fourth quarter. Rice did not shoot a free throw during the first three quarters of the game.

LSU will now face Middle Tennessee State on Sunday.

The Blue Raiders upset Louisville earlier on Friday with a 71-69 comeback win after trailing by as many as 18 points in the first half against the Cardinals.

Sunday’s game time and TV assignment will be announced later Friday night once all of the NCAA Tournament games are completed.

Morrow, who was making her NCAA Tournament debut, was the only Tiger to reach double digits in the first half with 10 points.

Hailey Van Lith scored seven pointa, had three assists, and six boards while Last-Tear Poa finished with nine points, two blocks, and was 4-of-4 from the free throw line in her return to the court after suffering a concussion late in the SEC Tournament semi-final game against Ole Miss 13 days ago.

LSU’s 24 turnovers was a season-high for the Tigers. Reese had six turnovers, Van Lith and Williams each had five.

Mulkey refused to wallow in the negative, saying she was just glad to get the win.

“There were a lot of good teams that got beat today that weren’t supposed to get beat; we won,” Mulkey said.

Destiny Jackson led Rice with 15 points including two 3-pointers.

Malia Fisher added13 points before fouling out late in the fourth quarter. Emily Klaczek and Sussy Ngulefac each scored 10 for Rice.

LSU opened the game on a 7-0 run, but Rice responded with a 6-0 run of its own.

Following the first media timeout of the game, Van Lith hit a 3 from the top of the key. Johnson broke a three-minute scoring drought for both teams with a fast-break layup right before the end of the first to give LSU a 12-6 lead heading into the second quarter.

Rice opened the second period with back-to-back threes to make it 12-12.

Morrow, however, scored on consecutive possessions for LSU. Reese then sank two free throws for her first points of the game and put LSU up by four. LSU went on a 10-4 run and took an eight-point lead.

But LSU went cold and had a three-minute scoring drought from there, allowing Rice to cut it to 30-27 by halftime.

With 7:38 left to play in the third quarter, Johnson hit a 3 to put LSU up four, 37-33, but Rice answered with a two on its next possession and then Van Lith turned the ball over but Rice could not convert on the offensive end and Johnson ignited the crowd with drive into the heart of the Owls defense, cut right on the dribble with the ball in her right hand and went up sending the multiple right that way but crossing back to the left in the air and making a banking layup on the left side of the goal with 6:12 left in the third to give LSU a 39-35 lead.

LSU led 40-38 at the media timeout with 4:50 left in the third quarter, but went on 13-4 run to end the quarter and open its biggest lead of the night at 11 points, 53-42 heading into the final period.

Jackson opened the fourth with a three and Klaczek followed with a free throw for Rice. LSU responded with four unanswered as the defense forced two big blocks and really pump the crowd up.

Fisher, Rice’s leading scorer, picked up her fifth foul with just under six minutes left to play.

 Rice moved within six of LSU at 62-56 with 1:43 to go, and Mulkey quickly called a timeout.

Johnson hit LSU’s field from about eight feet with 1:31 left in the game as the Tigers went up, 64-56.

LSU finished with six consecutive free throws from that point, Poa making four and Van Lith adding two.

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