First season already a success for Chatman

Updated: March 12, 2005, 10:50 AM ET
Associated Press

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Pokey Chatman stands at midcourt as the LSU women run through a defensive drill.

Arms folded, the rookie coach occasionally asks her players to speed it up, encourages them to do it again, calls out her pleasure or dislike. But mainly she watches, then huddles with her assistants to discuss what she has seen.

"She never changes,'' guard Seimone Augustus said. "She takes everything in stride and just gets us ready for the next game. It's just the way she is and it takes a lot of pressure off us.''

And there has been plenty of pressure for the Lady Tigers this season.

Ranked No. 1 for much of the season, LSU finished the regular season with a 27-1 record -- the only Division I team with one loss. They are the second school to go undefeated in the Southeastern Conference since the league went to a 14-game schedule in 1998. (Tennessee has done it four times.)

The Tigers also won their first regular-season SEC title before falling to Tennessee in the conference tournament final.

"The thing she has done very, very well is keep us all focused on the next game,'' said assistant coach Bob Starkey. "She's done that for both the players and staff, and it's a good thing. If we had taken time to think about the schedule, especially the preconference schedule with all that travel, we would have really been in bad shape.''

LSU was on the road for nine of its first 14 games, ending with its only loss of the season, a 51-49 overtime defeat at Rutgers.

Chatman, a player for former coach Sue Gunter and then a Gunter assistant for 13 years, was thrown into the top job last year when emphysema left Gunter too ill to continue coaching.

Chatman led the Tigers to a 15-5 record last season in Gunter's absence, including five wins over top-25 teams, a second-place finish in the SEC and the first Final Four appearance in school history.

"Last year gave me a good idea of what I needed to do to fill the position,'' Chatman said. "It gave me a head start of getting ready.''

Gunter also gave Chatman a head start during the years they worked together.

The former coach, who said she always thought of Chatman as a daughter, always spread responsibility among her assistants. She wanted all of them, Chatman said, to learn, grow and take charge.

"If she hadn't prepared us, we wouldn't have gone to the Final Four last year,'' Chatman said. "She not only got the team ready, she got the staff ready.''

LSU runs the same offense and defense as it did last year, but there are more changes than people suspect, Starkey said.

"We're at a point in our history where we're trying to promote our program to the community,'' Starkey said. "She's not only working to do that, she's under a lot of pressure to keep winning to keep the community interested.''

Chatman is everywhere, Starkey said, shaking hands, speaking to groups, doing interviews.

"Fortunately for me, I have a sleeping problem,'' Chatman said. "I only need three or four hours a night.''

The effort has paid off. LSU has moved up to ninth nationally in attendance, actually turning fans away for games at the 15,000-seat Pete Maravich Assembly Center this season.

"That's a thrill for me,'' Chatman said. "When I played, they used to have a curtain that blocked off one side of the court so everyone would sit together. A big crowd was 3,000 people.''

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press