Lady Tiger basketball has slipped drastically. It's undeniable; it's not worth debating; let's not try. I've covered the program for a decade and seen the glory years. Sorry, what's happened lately…ain't it. You remember the powerhouse days, don't you? From 2004–2008 LSU reached the Final Four an incredible five straight years. The Lady Tigers lived in the Top 10 rankings, featured amazing players like Temeka Johnson, Seimone Augustus and Sylvia Fowles, and drew huge crowds to the PMAC. As a matter of fact, 14 of the top 15 home crowds in LSU womens' history occurred between the years of 2003-2008. Were you there the night of February 25, 2005 when 15,233 showed up to see LSU beat Pat Summitt's Tennessee Lady Vols 68-58? Were you watching the evening of March 26, 2007 when Bob Starkey's club absolutely destroyed rock star Geno Auriemma's 4th ranked UConn Lady Huskies 73-50 in Fresno to reach one of those Final Fours? Can you recall not one, but two LSU teams (2005 & 2008) blowing through SEC play with perfect 14-0 records?
"I'm very proud of our team today," said LSU head coach Van Chancellor following Sunday's 80-60 loss at #4 Tennessee - the same UT program the Lady Tigers once stood toe-to toe against. The Lady Vols led 34-10 in the first half and were never really threatened. Yes, the powerful Lady Vols just finished with their own perfect 14-0 conference mark. Still, LSU fans may debate if it was a performance to be "proud of." The Lady Tigers have lost 8 SEC games this year. By contrast, they lost a TOTAL of 9 from 2004-2008.
Chancellor of course owns his own piece of LSU's tremendous history. Inheriting a team with enough talent to make one of his old Houston Comets teams sweat, the Lady Tigers rolled to Tampa and the Final Four in 2008. The trip unfortunately ended like all the others…in bitter frustration. LSU failed to block out the Lady Vols' Alexis Hornbuckle, and she scored the game winning lay-up with .7 left. It was Hornbuckle's only bucket of the night. Final score: Tennessee 47, LSU 46.
On that night the best center in Lady Tiger history, Fowles, along with long-range bomber, Quianna Chaney, and lightning fast point guard, Erica White, all played their final games in an LSU uniform. The talent that has followed has simply not been on their level. Or it hasn't been developed. Pokey Chatman recruit, Allison Hightower, basically carried the Lady Tigers on her back to second round NCAA appearances in 2009 and 2010. But those Lady Tiger teams were hardly elite and went no further.
So now, let's look at the current state of the LSU program. The Lady Tigers failed to receive a single vote in the latest AP or Coaches Top 25 Polls. Louisiana Tech got 21 and 26 votes, respectively. Not a single vote for LSU. Not one. A staggering thought. Attendance has likewise plummeted. This year's "Pack The PMAC" affair drew only 3,700 fans, the smallest crowd ever in the 15-year history of the event. "Senior Night" last Thursday listed a number of just 2,700; a far cry from the 10,000 Augustus drew for her final home contest. The casual LSU fans that were once drawn in to women's hoops have found something else to do.
In the past, LSU hoped to perform well in the SEC Tournament, to get a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Wow, talk about readjusting your goals. This year, the Lady Tigers are just praying they can get into "The Big Dance." With an 18-12 overall record and RPI of 49, LSU can perhaps solidify an NCAA bid with a win over lowly #10 seed Alabama Thursday and then another against #2 seed Kentucky on Friday. Who knows? Regardless, a program that was as elite as LSU shouldn't be on the bubble.
I'm not writing off this season, and I'm not suggesting that Van Chancellor be fired. Like Trent Johnson, he's proven to be a hell of a coach when he has the talent. And yes, the hype is already building for 6'4 Krystal Forthan, a superstar recruit who will be a Lady Tiger next year. I've seen some video footage of Forthan, and she's more than impressive. But how much fire does Chancellor, who will turn 68 next September, have left in his belly? A better question…is LSU AD Joe Alleva really happy with what he's getting on his $700,000 per year investment? That salary is basically double what Pokey Chatman was receiving, by the way. We don't need to get into Chatman's personal issues (she was rightfully dismissed), but she held a sparkling 90-14 record (an 86.5% winning percentage) as LSU's head coach. And for whatever reasons, she was an AMAZING recruiter. While her X and O's seemed to fall short on the big stage, leaving LSU women's college basketball's equivalent of the Buffalo Bills, her ability to assemble unbelievable talent was the driving force behind those 5 straight Final Four appearances. If Chatman didn't have the off-the-court issues, she could've stayed at LSU forever. And it's more than intriguing to think what LSU would've accomplished if she had. Even four years later, it's sad to reflect on.
So let's see what happens. Will this Lady Tiger team wake up and make a late season run? Will the program overall begin taking steps back towards being elite? Will the big crowds return? Will Chancellor return? These are huge questions for a program suffering from erosion and decline. Simply put, LSU women's basketball is at a crossroads.
I do know this for sure - Temeka Johnson, Seimone Augustus and Sylvia Fowles aren't walking through that door.