BATON ROUGE, La. — Nikki Caldwell works from the same LSU office once occupied by former Tigers football coach Nick Saban.
Yet, the Lady Tigers second-year women's basketball coach has a different view.
As the former Tennessee player and assistant coach surveys her domain, she offers an outlook that doesn't sound very Saban-like.
"We're in a desperate situation here," she said.
LSU (13-9, 4-5 SEC) needs a victory and the next opportunity comes today (TV: CSS, 9 p.m.) against No. 12 Tennessee (17-5, 8-1) at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
The Lady Tigers actually need victories and their schedule isn't brimming with opportunity.
Tennessee's visit completes a tour of the conference penthouse. Texas A&M, the other team atop the standings, was here Monday night, leaving with a 74-57 victory.
LSU likely needs a .500 record in regular-season league play or a deep run in the conference tournament to assure an NCAA berth. Otherwise, the Lady Tigers will be spectators for first- and second-round play next month at their arena.
"I don't know what I'd do," Caldwell said. "I'm not going to think about that. It's not happening. Better find a way."
Instead, Caldwell thinks along the same lines as her friend and UT counterpart, Holly Warlick. Both are dealing with teams whose preoccupation with offense has cost them on defense.
After Tennessee's 80-63 loss at Missouri, Lady Vols point guard Ariel Massengale conceded, "We thought we could outscore them. It didn't happen. That's why we have to get back to basics and what we're capable of doing."
LSU forward Theresa Plaisance, who shot 0-for-7 from the floor to start against A&M, blamed herself for the loss afterward and said, "I think I could've done a lot more."
Both Tennessee and LSU lost five seniors from last season's teams. The Lady Tigers also lost freshman Krystal Forthan, a McDonald's All-American. The 6-foot-4 post player transferred, bouncing from West Virginia to Utah before finally landing at Academy of Art University, a Division II school in San Francisco.
Although LSU's training room hasn't been as busy as Tennessee's lately, Lady Tigers starting guard Jeanne Kenney suffered an injury to her left knee on Monday. She practiced Wednesday, wearing a brace. She won't start tonight but likely will play.
After eight consecutive seasons of being among the SEC leaders in defense, the Lady Tigers are in the middle of the pack, at best, in all of the pertinent statistics, allowing nearly 65 points per game on average.
Caldwell would like to deploy multiple alignments, even switch on the same possession. For the time being, she's wedded primarily to a traditional 2-3 zone.
Given the circumstances, Caldwell has to guard against overreacting.
"I have to watch my blood pressure; I have high blood pressure," she said. "Sometimes I get too worked up and then after the game OK, here comes the headache."
While she might tone down her reaction, she's not budging on her principles. Caldwell talks of "sweat equity" and defines the term not only in defense and rebounding, but also sprinting the floor, setting hard screens and being strong with the ball, etc.
Texas A&M coach Gary Blair thinks that Caldwell has gotten her point across about being competitive. He also mentioned Lady Tigers assistant Tasha Butts, another former Lady Vol.
"They fight," he said of the Lady Tigers. "The fight comes from looking at their coaching staff. Could they look Butts or Caldwell in the eye if they're not going to play the way they played at Tennessee?"
Caldwell sounded like her usual self when saying that she still believes her team can win every game.
Moreover, she sounded like Saban in talking about recruiting and re-establishing a presence in such states as Texas, Georgia and Florida. Signee Raigyne Moncrief, a 5-10 guard who's ranked No. 18 in the Class of 2013 by ESPN HoopGurlz, is from Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
LSU might add as many as two junior college players in the spring.
In the meantime, they need wins — desperately.