AUSTIN, Texas -- It was almost easy to forget all that's gone wrong for the LSU women's basketball program in recent days. That's because on Saturday, everything went so right for the Tigers.
In their first game since head coach Pokey Chatman resigned amid allegations of improper conduct with a former player, the Tigers dispensed of North Carolina-Asheville with ease.
The 77-39 win came so easily that the Tigers were able to clear their bench in the first half -- something acting head coach Bob Starkey had planned from the start. Of course, he cleared the bench in the second, too. Every player logged at least 11 minutes.
"We made a conscious decision before the game that we were going to play all 12 players in the first half," Starkey said. "It'd been a difficult week, and our staff felt like our kids' attitude and work ethic was tremendous, and we wanted to give them some ownership of this game."
They owned it alright. The Tigers made the opening round look like a warmup game. They shot 44 percent from the field and 50 percent from three-point range for a season-high nine treys. They blocked 10 shots. They forced 25 turnovers.
All three starting guards ended up scoring in double digits with RaShonta LeBlanc and Quianna Chaney putting up a game-high 15 each. No UNC-Asheville player had more than seven.
"It was the perfect start, perfect end and perfect in-between," Starkey said.
When isn't Sylvia Fowles impressive? She had 10 rebounds and eight points in just 16 minutes. But, LeBlanc showed hope for the LSU's future in the tournament with a career high five three-pointers. She needed just six attempts to get it, too. Although she didn't take many shots, that kind of accuracy can be just as dangerous. If Leblanc can continue to prove herself a consistent threat, it improves the Tigers' chances of moving on.
On the court, LSU might not have looked like a team that just lost its head coach, but one look at the bench showed quite a difference without Chatman. It was a calmer looking sideline without the animated Chatman, known for her intense snarl and penchant for prowling in front of the bench. While Chatman often paces and crouches along the sidelines, Starkey seldom left his chair.
The Tigers have led the nation in defense all season, and on Saturday, we saw what happens when things are clicking on the other end of the floor, too. Their formula for success is pretty simple. Fowles can carry the load, but when she has help, LSU is a much better team and more difficult to beat. They'll certainly be well rested, which isn't good news for West Virginia. The Mountaineers managed just 25 points in a season-opening loss to the Tigers.