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Time to focus

LSU must overcome off-the-court distractions again

Posted: Friday March 16, 2007 9:18PM; Updated: Friday March 16, 2007 9:18PM
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AUSTIN, Texas -- It's been nearly two weeks since LSU played its last game. That loss to Vanderbilt isn't the reason the Tigers are so anxious to get back on the court.

The Tigers just want life to be about basketball again. And Saturday, it will be. They'll open the NCAA tournament against UNC-Asheville, a first-timer in the bracket.

Surely, no one at LSU wants to talk about last week's resignation by head coach Pokey Chatman. They'd rather skip the discussion on allegations of her inappropriate conduct with a former player.

"Our program has been through a lot in the last week," acting head coach Bob Starkey said. "We made a decision that when we left, our focus was going to be completely about who we are playing, and our next opponent is the University of North Carolina-Asheville. We're not worried about anything that happened in the past."

To their credit, though, LSU's players and Starkey did a fine job of fielding them anyway. Center Sylvia Fowles and Starkey even mentioned their former head coach by name on a couple of occasions. The players seemed relaxed even as LSU officials hovered around the locker room, listening in on interview sessions in case a question came up they didn't like.

When that opening round is over, though, the third-seeded Tigers hope to be answering questions about a win. They'd rather be talking about a second-round opponent.

"It's been easier for me to focus on basketball because you don't want to let anything else in," guard Erica White said. "This time of year, you're in the NCAA tournament. You want to come out and have a good showing and play your best, so you never want to let anything in this time of year."

Somehow, the Tigers always manage to keep things from getting in their way. They find a way to focus. They've had enough practice. Last year, they answered question after question about life after Hurricane Katrina. That could have been a huge distraction, carrying the weight of a state on your shoulders. Not for the Tigers, though.

LSU seemed to thrive. The Tigers went on to reach their third straight Final Four.

"It starts with the kids," Starkey said. "It always comes down to the people. It's human nature to circle the wagons when things go bad. We talk to them about that. They know that you are defined by how you respond in those situations."

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