AUSTIN, Texas -- Sitting in his courtside seat with his right hand cupping his chin, LSU coach Bob Starkey sure didn't look nervous.
And why should he be?With the third-seeded Lady Tigers cruising through a 77-39 win over No. 14 North Carolina-Asheville to open the NCAA Tournament Fresno Regional, it was easy to stay calm, even after a week of turmoil."Perfect start, perfect end, perfect in between," Starkey said.A longtime assistant, Starkey found himself leading LSU (27-7) into the tournament after charismatic head coach Pokey Chatman resigned March 7 amid allegations of an improper relationship with a former player.To ease any anxiety, Starkey made sure he got all 12 of his players in the game in the first half as the Lady Tigers jumped to a 39-19 lead by halftime."It's been a difficult week," Starkey said. "The kids' attitude were terrific and we wanted to give them ownership of this game."RaShonta LeBlanc and Quianna Chaney each scored 15 points, hitting all of LSU's season-high nine 3-pointers.The Lady Tigers are chasing their fourth straight appearance in the Final Four, which includes facing West Virginia in the next round, and several hundred LSU fans made the trip from Baton Rouge with Mardi Gras beads and gold pompoms. Even with the pressure of the week, the low-key Starkey sat coolly on the bench with his legs crossed.Once the game started, he rarely budged from his studious sitting pose."Probably the most nervous I was was at halftime and after the game when ESPN grabbed me for interviews," Starkey said.The first sign of the coming mismatch? The opening tip, when UNC-Asheville sent 5-foot-6 guard Ana Baker against the Lady Tigers' 6-6 Sylvia Fowles.Fowles didn't even have to jump.Kyla Jones and Katie Baldwin each scored seven points for UNC-Asheville (21-12), which committed 25 turnovers and shot just 15-of-55 from the field in the school's first NCAA Tournament game."We don't like to get beat like that," UNC-Asheville coach Betsy Blose said. "Obviously, they are a better team. We haven't seen pressure like that all year and it totally disrupted us. Games like this test your character and it's hard to keep your composure."LeBlanc hit three 3-pointers and LSU forced 15 UNC-Asheville turnovers in building a 20-point lead by halftime. The Bulldogs shot just 7-of-22 in the half.Chaney hit two 3-pointers in the first three minutes. When Fowles got an easy tip-in and then went way up to block a jumper by Stacy Shepard, it was obvious LSU was just too tall, athletic and fast for the Bulldogs."Their shooting was amazing," Jones said. "We had hands in their face and they were still knocking them down."UNC-Asheville went scoreless for more than four minutes to open the second as LSU stretched the lead to 48-19. Two more 3-pointers, including LeBlanc's fifth of the game, kept piling on the points.When Marian Whitfield hit a baseline jumper, LSU's lead was up to 40 with more than 10 minutes to play."We came out and played the way we played all year," LSU guard Erica White said. "Nobody in our locker room was surprised by that."