Graham leads No. 23 LSU past No. 25 Vandy, 55-39Feb 19, 2010 - 4:42 AM By BRETT MARTEL AP Sports Writer
BATON ROUGE, La.(AP) -- Katherine Graham had a moment in the spotlight before tipoff against Vanderbilt when she was honored for recently recording LSU's first triple-double in 15 years.
Once the game started, the Commodores turned their attention to stopping LSU leading scorer Allison Hightower, so Graham stepped up again to carry the 23rd-ranked Lady Tigers.
Graham had 15 points and nine rebounds to help LSU win its third straight with a 55-39 victory over No. 25 Vanderbilt on Thursday night.
"I knew they would put a lot of pressure on trying to stop Allison," Graham said. "She is good at finding the open players when they double-team her. I was just the one that got the shots."
Hightower, who averages about 18 points, scored 13. LaSondra Barrett and Courtney Jones each scored 11 for LSU (18-7, 7-6 Southeastern Conference), which never trailed while holding Vanderbilt to its lowest point total in school history.
"Our defense was as good as gold tonight," LSU coach Van Chancellor said.
Jence Rhoads led Vanderbilt (18-8, 7-6) with 12 points, but the Commodores had trouble coping with LSU's defense. Vanderbilt, which entered the game shooting 46.1 percent for the season, shot 37 percent (17 of 46) against the Lady Tigers and turned the ball over 20 times.
"LSU did a good job of denying and taking us out of our timing," Vanderbilt coach Melanie Balcomb said. "We had a ton of turnovers and didn't execute well."
Hannah Tuomi added 11 points for the Commodores and Merideth Marsh scored 10.
Although Vanderbilt never led, Marsh had a chance to tie it at 29 with a pair of free throws early in the second half. She missed one and LSU started to pull away for good when Jones drained a jumper and Destini Hughes followed with a 3.
After Rhoads' jumper made it 37-33, LSU went on a 18-6 run during the final 11:26 of the game to win with ease. Hightower scored on a pair of explosive runners during the final surge, when Jones, a reserve, scored six of her points.
It was a big win for LSU, which hopes to climb into fourth in the SEC and get a first-round bye in the conference tournament. LSU also needs to finish strong to increase its chances of an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, for which the Lady Tigers have qualified the past 11 seasons.
"My nerves were about as bad tonight before the game as they've been in coaching in a long time," Chancellor said. "I just thought this was a must-win for us, NCAA-wise. I think now we'll be in the playoffs ... That just gives you some ammo with the committee and all of that."
LSU held a brief pregame ceremony to present Graham with a basketball commemorating her triple-double (20 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists) on Feb. 7 against Mississippi - the third triple-double in Lady Tigers' history and first since 1995.
The shooting guard then gave Vanderbilt all it could handle, hitting from outside while also sneaking into the paint for key rebounds and some easy inside baskets.
"Katherine is smart and has good size," Balcomb said. "She's been very steady, hitting wide-open shots and making good decisions. I think Graham is playing very well for them, and she is the most improved player I've seen from this team from last year."
Graham and Hightower gave LSU a quick double-digit cushion to start the game. Hightower scored five early points, including a putback as she was fouled, and Graham added three jumpers and a fast-break layup as the Lady Tigers raced to a 13-3 lead.
Barrett's 3 made it 18-7.
Vanderbilt began clawing back when Rhoads started connecting from outside. She had eight points in the first half, hitting a pair of jumpers during a 10-2 run that pulled the Commodores to 23-22.
Graham, who scored 10 in the first half, helped LSU start to rebuild its lead with a jumper, and Barrett followed with a basket inside.
Marsh, who came in averaging 14.6 points, was held to only one field goal through the first 19 minutes. She then hit a runner in the lane to pull Vanderbilt to 27-24 at halftime.
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