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Tigers overcome year of tragedy

For Louisiana State, it's been a long, but ultimately rewarding, road back to the Final Four.

With their 62-59 win over Stanford Monday, the top-seeded Lady Tigers (31-3) advanced to the national semifinals for the third consecutive year, the longest active streak in the nation. The victory also made LSU just the seventh school in history to have both their men's and women's teams in the Final Four.

Much of LSU's success can be attributed to reigning National Player of the Year Seimone Augustus, who is the NCAA's scoring leader at 23.0 points per game. A middle school AAU teammate of men's center Glen "Big Baby" Davis, Augustus is shooting 56.8 percent from the field and averages 4.8 rebounds per game.

For the senior, this Final Four has added importance as it represents her last shot at winning a national title before entering the WNBA Draft. The Lady Tigers did not advance past the semifinal round in each of the previous two seasons, losing to SEC rival Tennessee in 2004 and Baylor in 2005.

"You want to go out on a high note," Augustus said. "It would be great, the first ever. It's a great opportunity to play the best ever and end on a high note."

Despite all their recent success, however, LSU has had to battle its fair share of adversity this past year.

In August, former head coach Sue Gunter, who was forced to leave the team because of poor health in 2004, passed away after a long battle with a respiratory illness.

The loss was particularly hard on current head coach Pokey Chatman, who played for Gunter in college before getting a job with her as an assistant coach. Chatman told ESPN.com that watching her mentor suffer was an especially trying experience for her.

"I'm still okay with Sue and her loss, just because of watching her demise," she said. "On my worst day of missing her, I wouldn't want her back because she was in such bad condition. I still have my moments where it will just overtake me, but I think that would be the case with anyone who was close to you. She was a really good friend."

Unfortunately for LSU, an even larger tragedy would arrive just a few weeks later when Hurricane Katrina made landfall along the Gulf Coast. Although Baton Rouge escaped the brunt of the storm, two players on the team, Khalilah Mitchell and RaShonta LeBlanc, found their families displaced and without a home.

"I think so much of their athletic mettle and strength probably helped them with that," Chatman told ESPN.com. "But also, we were so engrossed in it-we didn't have the opportunity to step back and realize how devastating it still is."

In the aftermath of Gunter's death and the storm, the team escaped together on the basketball court, which helped them get through the trying time.

"I think we're all okay, but that's because we come to this place called LSU Lady Tiger basketball that we draw strength from," Chatman said to ESPN.com.

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