By BRET MARTEL AP Sports Writer
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP)—Shots stopped falling at a critical time for Courtney Clements and San Diego State – even the foul shots.
Clements scored 17 points, but only three in the second half, and the 12th-seeded Aztecs missed 13 of 20 free throws in a 64-56 loss to No. 5 seed LSU on Sunday night in the first round of the NCAA women’s tournament.
San Diego State led for much of the game and by as much as seven in the second half, but went scoreless for nearly 7 minutes – missing five free throws during that span – while the Lady Tigers surged into the lead for good with a 12-0 run.
“It’s just concentration,” Aztecs senior forward Kalena Tutt said of the missed free throws. “For most of our team it’s the first time they’ve been to the NCAA tournament. I know next year they’ll be able to knock them down, when I’m not here, because now they have the experience.”
Chelsea Hopkins added 16 points for San Diego State (25-7), which shot 40 percent (22 of 55) and was outrebounded by a 43-32 margin. Clements’ only basket in the second half was a banked 3-pointer that pulled the Aztecs to 58-54 with a minute to go, briefly giving them hope before LSU (23-10) put the game away by making free throws.
“They did a good job of being pretty physical in the second half,” Clements said. “They pretty much face-guarded me. They didn’t let me get any easy looks at all, and they knew where I was at all times.”
LSU’s LaSondra Barrett had 17 points and 10 rebounds in her comeback from a concussion, while Courtney Jones added 13 points and Jeanne Kenney 10.
“We just stuck at it. We’ve had ugly wins throughout this whole season,” said Barrett, who was knocked out of LSU’s loss to Tennessee in the Southeastern Conference championship two weeks ago. “Tonight, we knew if we kept fighting, kept playing, it would be a dogfight and if we kept the game in low-scoring numbers, we would get the advantage.”
Barrett shot only 2 of 9 but scored 13 times from the foul line, and LSU coach Nikki Caldwell thought her effort led the Tigers back.
“LaSondra has been our rock. She’s someone who, late in the game, you have to have her in the game,” Caldwell said. “She brings a strength and toughness to this team when she’s on the floor. Sometimes it’s not when she’s scoring the basketball. It may be a big-time rebound that she gets.”
LSU, which plays fourth-seeded Penn State in the second round, shot 38.3 percent (18 of 47) but made 26 of 35 free throws.
San Diego State appeared to be taking control when Kiyana Stamps’ 3-pointer started a 7-0 run that was capped when Tutt stole the ball from Barrett and fed Khristina Hunter for a layup to make it 36-29.
Hopkins stole the ball from Kenney and went in for a layup to make it 47-41 with 10:04 to go, but that was the beginning of the end for SDSU, which suddenly lost all semblance of an offense and did not score again until 3:16 remained.
Kenney started LSU’s comeback with a free throw, followed by Jones’ inside basket. Barrett’s free throws tied it at 47 with 7:22 to go.
The volume of the roars from the heavily pro-LSU crowd continued to rise as the Lady Tigers surged into the lead on Bianca Lutley’s turnaround and inside basket. Barrett’s free throws capped the surge, making it 53-47 with 4:09 left.
SDSU coach Beth Burns said she looked at the game on LSU’s home court as a road game, even though it was technically a neutral site, but did not think the crowd really affected her team as much as LSU’s strength, length and determination.
“They did such a good job of preventing us from getting into the paint the way we needed to,” Burns said. “It had more to do with that.”