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Tigers ready for Bulls after strong finish

Coach Jose Fernandez will prepare USF for an LSU team that has beaten three ranked teams and won seven of its last 11 games. ORACLE FILE PHOTO/SEBASTIAN CONTENTO

Monday’s NCAA Tournament seeding announcement marked the third time in program history that USF will appear in the coveted big dance. The Bulls’ first round matchup will be against LSU, a team that’s accustomed to postseason trips.

No. 6 USF (26-7, 15-3) will face No. 11 LSU on Saturday in the Sun Dome at 6:30 p.m., with the game airing on ESPN2. A pep rally will be held today at 11:30 a.m. in the SVC courtyard outside the Marshall Student Center to get fans excited for the weekend’s festivities. 

LSU (17-13, 10-6) finished sixth in the SEC regular season standings and reached the semifinal of the SEC tournament where it lost to South Carolina, a number one seed in the NCAA tournament, by 20 points. 

The Lady Tigers will make the trek to Tampa for their fourth-straight NCAA Tournament appearance, which is also their 16th in the last 17 seasons under head coach Nikki Caldwell. 

“I’m excited to be playing a very good team in USF,” Caldwell said in an interview with The Advertiser. “They have tremendous play in the post and on the perimeter. This time of year, it is anybody’s game. I want us to make sure that we are sticking to our game plan, and we are going in there with great intensity and a lot of effort.”

Among the field of 64 teams, seven will come from the SEC. Only the ACC is sending more teams to the tournament, with eight teams coming from the conference.  

Junior guard Danielle Ballard has had the hot hand for the Lady Tigers recently, and averages 14.4 points and 7.2 rebounds per game in 16 regular season appearances. Ballard was suspended last November after she violated team rules. Her return came after a 24-point blowout loss at home to South Carolina in January, when she helped spark a 10-6 record in LSU’s final 16 games.

Aside from Ballard, LSU has depth at the guard position in sophomore Raigyne Moncrief and senior DaShawn Harden, who combine to average 22.6 points and nine rebounds per game. 

After a rough 7-7 start to the season without the team’s best player, LSU still found a way to reach the NCAA Tournament as a No.11 seed. 

Just last year, USF finished the regular season with an 18-11 record but was sent to the WNIT instead. Now the two teams will face off in the first round of this year’s tournament with the Bulls looking to make a deep run of their own. 

No. 3 Louisville and No. 14 BYU will play Saturday at 4 p.m. The winners of both games will meet Monday in the second round of the NCAA Tournament vying for a trip to the Sweet 16 next week.