CHATTANOOGA, March 28 -- The players on the LSU women's basketball team finally had to break a sweat in the NCAA tournament, but they hardly cared, since the effort resulted in a 59-49 win over Duke in the Chattanooga Region final. The Lady Tigers earned their second consecutive trip to the Final Four with the victory in front of 5,086 in McKenzie Arena.
LSU (33-2), the tournament's overall No. 1 seed, will face Baylor (31-3), a 72-63 winner over North Carolina, in a national semifinal on Sunday in Indianapolis.
LSU's Temeka Johnson, left, drives past Duke's Wanisha Smith. LSU will face Baylor in a national semifinal game on Sunday in Indianapolis.
(Donna Mcwilliam -- AP)
Second-seeded Duke (31-5) was a tough foe for LSU, which won its first three tournament games by an average of 36.3 points. The Lady Tigers faced their largest deficit of the season (12 points), and for only the third time they did not hold the lead at halftime (it was 30-30).
"I think it will help the team because now we know we can play in tough situations, and we can finish it off," said LSU junior Seimone Augustus, who scored 24 points on 10-of-20 shooting and was named the region's most outstanding player. "We were down, but we kept our composure and got it back. I think that's a big momentum boost going into the Final Four."
LSU never trailed in the second half, but it had a difficult time trying to shake the Blue Devils. In the end, the Lady Tigers had fresher legs -- a pleasant byproduct of its early round blowouts -- than Duke, which used only seven players. The Lady Tigers outrebounded the Blue Devils by a 28-13 margin in the second half (42-27 for the game).
"Fatigue was a factor," said Duke Coach Gail Goestenkors, whose already slim bench was shortened by foul trouble to starters Alison Bales and Wanisha Smith (Riverdale Baptist). "LSU was more aggressive [in the second half]. They went after all the long rebounds and all the loose ball rebounds. Maybe they had a little more energy than we did."
The Lady Tigers held Duke to a season-low 49 points and they did a terrific job against the Blue Devils' top two scorers. Duke junior forward Mistie Williams was dominant in the first half, scoring 13 points on 6-of-6 shooting, but she attempted only one shot in the second half (which she made). The Lady Tigers batted away entry passes intended for Williams, and they double-teamed her when she managed to get the ball.
Junior Scholanda Hoston shadowed Monique Currie, and she pressured the Duke all-American guard into a 4-for-18 shooting performance. Even when Currie, a two-time All-Met Player of the Year from the Bullis School, managed to shake Hoston, she found her path blocked by other Lady Tigers.
"Every time I tried to drive the lane, there was another player waiting on me," said Currie, who finished with 11 points and five assists. "It was so difficult for me to get an open shot."
Sylvia Fowles, a 6-foot-5 freshman, was a spark off the bench, helping to neutralize Williams in the second half and also providing a crucial basket inside after Duke cut LSU's lead to three with four minutes to play. She finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds.
Duke took advantage of its front-court strength early; 17 of its first 24 points came from the 6-foot-3 Williams and the 6-foot-7 Bales. After Bales scored on a lay-up with 8 minutes 13 seconds left in the half, the Blue Devils led 24-12.
Duke held a 28-18 lead with 4:08 left until halftime. But LSU closed the half on a 12-2 run.
"I spoke loudly, I whispered, I shaked, I prodded, I tried every one in my bag," LSU Coach Pokey Chatman said of trying to get her team going in the first half. "The last eight minutes of the half was key. I was sorry to see halftime come."