BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — As 5-foot-9 point guard Danielle Ballard walked off a podium inside LSU's basketball headquarters, she smiled bashfully and grabbed the back of her leg, complaining of a cramp while teammate Theresa Plaisance called her "grandma."
Painful as the cramp may have been, Ballard couldn't wipe the smile off her face as she hobbled toward the locker room — not after the explosive, all-court performance she delivered in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Ballard scored 24 points and grabbed 17 rebounds, and LSU led wire-to-wire in a 98-78 victory over Georgia Tech on Sunday.
"Ballard just played like a woman possessed," LSU coach Nikki Caldwell said. "When you have your point guard playing with that type of attitude, that mentality, it filters throughout our team. So she did set the tone for us, that we can be aggressive against their pressure."
Plaisance had 21 points and 11 rebounds, and DaShawn Harden scored 17 points for the Lady Tigers (20-12), who picked an opportune time to set a school record for most points in a tournament game and reach their highest point total of the season.
"That was a totally different team that I saw today than the last 10 games on film," Georgia Tech coach MaChelle Joseph said of LSU. "They had players making shots that I didn't see them making" previously.
Seeded seventh in the Louisville region, the Lady Tigers had the benefit of opening a third straight NCAA tournament on their home court, where they are now 17-3 all-time in tournament games. LSU led by as much as 20 in the second half en route to winning its 16th straight first-round game, dating back to 1997. The Lady Tigers also improved to 9-0 all-time in first-round games played on their home court.
LSU's performance stood in stark contrast to its previous 10 games, eight of which it lost.
"This isn't the same LSU team you saw two weeks ago," Plaisance said. "We've completely transformed ourselves."
LSU next plays Tuesday night, again at home, against second-seeded West Virginia, which beat 15th-seeded Albany, 76-61 on Sunday afternoon. It remains to be seen whether LSU freshman reserve guard Raigyne Moncrief will play after injuring her left knee in the second half against Georgia Tech. Her knee buckled and she was helped off the court, and Caldwell said the injury would re-evaluated Monday.
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