Lady Tigers ready to put coaching scandal behind them

Updated: March 16, 2007, 8:36 PM ET
Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas -- It's back to basketball for LSU.

Friday's short practice before the Lady Tigers' first NCAA Tournament game was a welcome respite from a week of controversy after head coach Pokey Chatman abruptly resigned amid allegations of improper conduct with a former player.

AP Photo/Sue OgrockiLSU guard Marian Whitfield passes the ball away while under pressure from guard Erica White during a workout before the NCAA Tournament.

"Obviously our program has been through a lot in the last week," said assistant coach Bob Starkey, who is leading the team in the tournament. The Lady Tigers (26-7) are the No. 3 seed in the Fresno Regional and play No. 14 North Carolina-Asheville (21-11) on Saturday night.

"Before we left, our team got together and we made a decision once we got on the plane, our focus was going to be completely about who we're playing. We're not worried about anything that happened in past," Starkey said.

Starkey and the players couldn't completely avoid the subject.

Reporters asked the players several questions about the difficulties of the week before the NCAA moderator cut off the line of questioning.

"It's been easy for me to focus on basketball," junior guard Erica White said. "We've practiced. We've practiced well and I'm sure we'll be able to carry that over into the game."

Starkey ran the team through a spirited workout.

"I need better, quicker, harder second cuts," he barked during a half-court drill. "Game speed!"

Assistant coach Carla Berry also was at the practice. School officials acknowledged Thursday that Berry reported the alleged improper conduct that led to Chatman's resignation.

She occasionally clapped, but mostly stood with her arms crossed or looking a piece of paper. She and Starkey shared a brief laugh once near midcourt. An LSU spokesman said Berry would not speak to reporters.

Sylvia Fowles, LSU's leading scorer and rebounder, had been candid this week about her feelings toward the departed coach, repeatedly referring her to as a "second mom." Fowles suggested Friday the Lady Tigers wouldn't miss a beat with Starkey leading the team.

"A lot of people talk about coach Chatman and the emotion she brings to the table with this team," Fowles said. "Even though [Starkey] always worked behind the scenes, he always managed to get things done. Just to have him up front now. I think it's going to be even better now."

A career assistant thrust into a leadership role under tough circumstances, Starkey said he's not nervous about Saturday's game.

"I've got a wonderful team. some good assistants, that makes everything easier," Starkey said. "The biggest challenge is what I'm doing right now and that's meeting with the media."

Starkey said his players have been in a good mood on the court and when traveling.

"They're have a great time. I really believe they're focused in," he said. "I think that will be a big part of our success."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press