Point guard battle is X factor for LSU-UConn
FRESNO, Calif. -- The SEC sent more teams than any other conference to the Elite Eight.
On Monday, LSU will try to become the league's first to secure a spot in the Final Four.
The third-seeded Lady Tigers -- who are actually seeking their fourth straight trip to the national semifinals -- face top-seeded Connecticut on Monday night (ESPN, 9 ET) in the regional final in Fresno. The winner will advance to the Final Four to play the Greensboro Regional champion, either Rutgers or Arizona State, which will be decided at 7 p.m. ET on Monday (ESPN).
LSU and UConn met earlier this season. The Huskies prevailed, 72-71 in Baton Rouge, after a field goal from the Lady Tigers' Porsha Phillips was ruled a 2-pointer -- the shot swished at the buzzer and replays showed her toe had just crossed the 3-point arc. The loss, which saw LSU blow a 12-point first-half lead and then rally to trim away at UConn's second-half lead, snapped LSU's 43-game home-court winning streak at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
At the teams' press conferences on Sunday, there was much ado about the coming matchup in the paint between LSU's Sylvia Fowles and UConn's talented inside duo of freshman Tina Charles and junior Charde Houston.
But this game will likely come down to the point guard battle between 5-foot-7 Huskies sophomore Renee Montgomery and 5-3 Lady Tigers junior Erica White.
Their last meeting turned out to be a turning point for both. Montgomery had a huge game that night, scoring 20 points on 7-for-13 shooting, with seven assists and, six rebounds in one of her best performances of the season. When LSU tied the score with 17.1 seconds left, Montgomery was the one who answered with a 3-pointer -- over White -- to give the Huskies the lead again with 6.7 seconds to play. She scored UConn's final eight points.
And including the win over LSU, Montomery has averaged 15.2 points per game since, which is two more per game than her season average. She also has had five games with at least six assists.
White, on the other hand, didn't have a great game on Feb. 11. Though she had no turnovers and dished-out six assists, White was just 1-for-7 from the field for two points.
On Sunday, LSU coach Bob Starkey said White tried to play too fast when LSU and UConn met in the regular season. White needs to slow things down in her mind and make better decisions, he said.
Like Montgomery, White also used that first meeting as a jumping off point and has been playing her best ball of the season offensively. After notching double-digit scoring five times in the previous 24 games of the 2006-07 season, White has netted at least 10 points in five of LSU's 10 games since playing UConn. In that span, White's averaging 10.4 points, which is also two points more per game than her season average.
Fowles -- not Montgomery -- was actually the high scorer in the last meeting of these two clubs, netting 22 points on 9-of-15 shooting while adding 17 rebounds and three blocks. UConn obviously must do a better job boxing out and double-teaming the 6-6 junior center, who, on Sunday, Montgomery deemed "definitely the best post player I've played against in my career."
Fowles just got too many second-chance points last time. Whichever UConn player fronts Fowles must do a better job preventing her from getting the ball, and the player behind must push Fowles away from the boards. UConn can't afford Charles to be hindered by foul trouble again.
More than anything, the Lady Tigers seem to have completely put the Pokey Chatman situation behind them. Their coach resigned abruptly March 7 amid allegations of improper conduct with a former player. But LSU is focused on what happens on the court and reaching their fourth consecutive Final Four.
As Starkey noted, though, LSU played well against the Huskies last time and still lost.
"Do we have another level we can get to to beat them?" he asked.
UConn and LSU have met just three times. The Huskies are 3-0 in the series.Beth Mowins is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage.
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