Augustus welcomes high expectations

For so much of the NCAA Tournament last season, Seimone Augustus played like everyone daydreams they'd play in those big games. As LSU came closer and closer to a Final Four just down the road from its campus, Augustus kept
hitting shots.

She was 48-for-73 (65.8 percent) in LSU's first four tournament games for an average of 26.3 points. Planets were aligning and all that stuff.

Then LSU was in New Orleans, taking on Tennessee ... and crashed into the orange barrier that also has derailed SEC teams Georgia, Auburn, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas and Vanderbilt during the course of the NCAA Tournament the past two decades.

In the semifinals at New Orleans, two really good teams suddenly were throwing around a ball that seemed four sizes too big to go into the hoop. Clank, clunk, clatter, airball, spinout, short, long, nowhere close.

"It was just shots not falling," Augustus said, summing up LSU's -- and Tennessee's -- problem in the lowest-scoring game ever in the women's Final Four, 52-50 for the Orange.

To refresh your memory, the score was tied 50-50. Tennessee's Tasha Butts missed a chance to score the winning points when her shot fell short, then the ball went off Tennessee. That gave LSU possession with six seconds left, and both
teams took timeouts.

LSU got the ball into point guard Temeka Johnson, who appeared to travel and then dribbled into a double team. She lost the ball, and Tennessee's Shyra Ely picked it up and threw it to LaToya Davis for the winning layup with 1.6 seconds left.

LSU took one more heave shot. On a night when almost nothing was going in for LSU, this didn't, either. For the game, Tennessee shot 31.6 percent (18 of 57) and LSU 38 percent (19 of 50).

Augustus was 7 of 21 for the field for a game-high 16 points. But it was not the Final Four performance, obviously, that she was expecting.

"I think we learned a lot," Augustus said. "It was a good experience to get that far; it was a big eye-opener. People think we lost in the last couple of seconds, but we think we lost the whole game. It wasn't solely that one possession that lost it. We didn't close the game out. After we got a lead, we got comfortable and then didn't pick it up in the second half. It let them get their momentum going.

"But when we got on the bus to head back to Baton Rouge, as far as I was concerned, it was over. It was a good run and things happen for a reason. It happened to show us you have to work hard start to finish."

Of course, it's easier to have such perspective when you are a sophomore because you know there will be more chances. Now a junior and considered high among the favorites for national player of the year, the 6-foot-1 Augustus starts 2004-05 as ESPN.com's preseason player of the year and already has shown she's even better this season.

LSU got started with victories at home last Thursday and Friday in the Women's Sports Foundation Classic. The down side of things for LSU? As the No. 2 team in the country and coming off a Final Four appearance, LSU only drew just more than 2,500 fans for its home opener.

But Augustus and LSU got national attention this past weekend in a 71-70 victory over No. 8 Baylor in the State Farm Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic in Austin, Texas.

There, you could say Augustus -- who scored 33 points -- officially stepped into the spotlight that will be afforded her this season.

"I'm there. I have to take on those responsibilities and I'm more than happy to do that," she said. "If you're a marquee player, you have to act like a marquee player, and carry yourself with pride and dignity."

There is a lot of other talent at LSU. There's the veteran Johnson, who's also one of the nation's best. There are also other solid contributors from last year back, such as Wendlyn Jones, Tillie Willis, Scholanda Hoston and Hanna Biernacka. There's a big-potential freshman in center Sylvia Fowles.

Still, for Augustus there will be extra interviews and more pressure. She's not only the face of LSU but also one of the faces of women's college basketball. Now, she's "supposed" to be great all the time.

Augustus seems to understand all that. She has two more years to win a championship at LSU. Oh, and she has heard the rumors about her leaving the school after three years to try to be a test case for early entry into the WNBA.

"There is nothing to that," she said. "It's just that people heard I'm graduating early, that I'm on track to graduate in three years."

Augustus is getting her degree in business and wants "to own things. A lot of things, like restaurants and shops, to have a lot of my own property."

For now, though, she's trying to stake a claim for LSU being college basketball's best.

Mechelle Voepel is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage.