The Head of the Snake

By Jeff Lippman - March 28, 2008

Raise your hand if you simply can not wait for the Tennessee-Connecticut national championship matchup.

Well, if Van Chancellor, Sylvia Fowles and LSU have anything to do about, those hand raisers will be waiting for something that never comes.

People seem to forget about the Tigers, who are the only remaining team playing their Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games in their home state. That's right, the Tigers have under a two-hour drive to get from their home in Baton Rouge to the New Orleans Arena where they will meet 3-seed Oklahoma State on Saturday.

But if you remember back to the SEC Tournament, the Tigers were the one seed to Tennessee's two. LSU won the regular season crown and beat Tennessee in Knoxville by 16 points.

Tennessee may be defending national champions, but LSU has been to four consecutive Final Fours. And coach Chancellor would rather eat garbage before becoming the first coach in five seasons NOT to take them to the national semifinals.

To get back to the promised land, the Tigers must first dispose of the Cowgirls and then possibly top-seeded North Carolina. The Tar Heels have struggled thus far in wins over Bucknell and Georgia, and haven't looked like the dominant one seed they are.

And if Carolina could barely get past the Bulldogs of the SEC, the Tigers will absolutely demoralize the young 'Heels. Because the truth is, LSU is the matriarch of the tournament right now. They are the team that starts five seniors. They've been there before. Their coach is already a Hall of Famer - of course so is Geno and Pat and Sylvia and C. Viv, for that matter.

Sylvia Fowles is perhaps the most physically dominating player at any position in the game. At 6-foot-6, long, lean and muscular, Fowles can not be scored on down low and just became the all-time leading rebounder in the history of the SEC. In that win at Thompson-Boling on Valentines Day, Fowles scored 16 points to go with 14 rebounds and put the brakes on Parker's tremendous effort as the Tigers beat the Vols by 19 in the second half of that game.

Quianna Chaney is the scorer for this team. She's averaging almost 15 points per game and hits 2.6 threes per contest.

Yes, LSU is a special team. We've known that. But right now, at this very moment, they have one X-factor that most wouldn't consider a threat. But LSU knows better. And Oklahoma State better know better after her second round performance.

LSU's X-Factor: Point Guard Erica White

Sylvia Fowles calls her the "head of the snake."

"I won't say we're two different teams, but our momentum changes when she's off the floor." Fowles said after LSU topped Marist in the second round. "Erica gets everything going. Without her, we're kind of lost."

And White picked a good time to play her best basketball of her career.

Always the fastest player on the court, White played a game that could be the microcosm of her career. Not a scorer, the diminutive guard averaged just 7 points per game this season, the final of her collegiate career. And in the first half against the Red Foxes, she didn't do any scoring whatsoever, posting a doughnut.

"I'll say this, our point guard tonight, when she got her second foul, I don't want to say all the thoughts that were going through my head at that time." Chancellor said of having to sit White in the first half with foul trouble. "But when she came out, she was well-rested for the second half, played like she did. I just thought that was [speaking to White] your best performance since you've been at LSU, agree or disagree?"

White, who scored 15 second-half points on 6-of-10 shooting, had two three-pointers and four steals, agreed with her coach.

White is of the utmost importance to LSU. If she can contribute offensively, the Tigers become a much more dangerous opponent. Because Fowles is so dominant, teams - like Marist in the second round - camp four defenders on her and hope the rest of the Tigers can't beat them with shooting.

That's what Chaney is generally there for. To shoot over defenses who are keying on Fowles. But Chaney can't do it all by herself. And besides, teams are starting to realize that Q is really good. They are paying her a lot more attention than they used to. And so the Tigers need another scorer. It would mean everything if White were a viable option.

"They were basically going to sit four people on Sylvia and dare us to shoot." White said. "So basically, all night, I was just dreaming about knocking down open shots. I didn't get a chance to do that in the first half. So I just tried to stay focused."

Not only did White stay focused, the Jacksonville, Fla., native looked like a woman possessed and ready to launch her team into the round of 16. Generally not a scoring option, LSU's coaches' jaws were on the floor by her output against Marist.

"About three times on the bench tonight, our staff was saying, 'No, no, no!'," Chancellor said of his colleagues reactions to White's shot attempts in the second half. "Then she would make play after play. We were saying, 'Man, I taught her to make that play. That was a great shot."

If White continues to hit the shots that most don't expect from her than LSU becomes an even tougher opponent to predict. Their talent level is as high as any team in the nation. Their problem, with a stationary center leading the way, has always been finding people to accompany Fowles on the stat sheet.

With nine seniors on a roster that has already been to every Final Four possible in their careers, the winningest class in LSU history - like their coach - doesn't want to go down as the group who couldn't extend the semifinal streak to five.

But more than just making the Final Four, this senior-laden group of Tigers want to make that final hurdle. In the four years they've been to the Final Four, they've yet to even make the national championship, instead falling in the semifinal each time.

To get there this season they'll probably have to face that familar foe in the Lady Vols of Tennessee, and after losing to UT in the SEC Tournament championship game, Fowles, Chancellor, Chaney and White have a little payback in mind for their SEC sisters.

Posted by Jeff Lippman at 11:19 AM on March 28, 2008

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