BATON ROUGE, La. -- Whether the subject was LaSondra Barrett's double-double in her first game back from a concussion, or guard Jeanne Kenney's clutch play after an elbow to the mouth had sent her to the bench dripping with blood, LSU coach Nikki Caldwell seemed to enjoy talking about the toughness of her team.
"They don't show a softness, and that's how we play the game," Caldwell said. "We play the game very tough on the defense and rebounding side of the ball because that's who they are as people."
Barrett had 17 points and 10 rebounds, and fifth-seeded LSU held off No. 12 seed San Diego State 64-56 Sunday night in the first round of the women's NCAA tournament.
Courtney Jones added 13 points and Kenney 10 for LSU (23-10), which trailed by six midway through the second half but surged in front for good with a 12-0 run that lasted nearly 7 minutes.
"We just stuck at it. We've had ugly wins throughout this whole season," said Barrett, who was knocked out of LSU's loss to Tennessee in the Southeastern Conference championship two weeks ago. "Tonight, we knew if we kept fighting, kept playing, it would be a dogfight and if we kept the game in low-scoring numbers, we would get the advantage."
Barrett shot only 2 of 9 but scored 13 times from the foul line, and Caldwell thought her effort led the Tigers back.
"LaSondra has been our rock. She's someone who, late in the game, you have to have her in the game," Caldwell said. "She brings a strength and toughness to this team when she's on the floor. Sometimes it's not when she's scoring the basketball. It may be a big-time rebound that she gets."
LSU, which plays fourth-seeded Penn State in the second round, shot 38.3 percent (18 of 47) but made 26 of 35 free throws and outrebounded San Diego State (25-7) by a 43-32 margin.
The Aztecs shot 40 percent (22 of 55) and missed 13 of 20 foul shots.
"It's just concentration," senior forward Kalena Tutt said. "For most of our team it's the first time they've been to the NCAA tournament. I know next year they'll be able to knock them down, when I'm not here, because now they have the experience."
Courtney Clements scored 17 for the Aztecs, but only three in the second half. Chelsea Hopkins added 16 points.
"They did a good job of being pretty physical in the second half," Clements said. "They pretty much face-guarded me. They didn't let me get any easy looks at all, and they knew where I was at all times."
San Diego State appeared to be taking control when Kiyana Stamps' 3-pointer started a 7-0 run that was capped when Kalena Tutt stole the ball from Barrett and fed Khristina Hunter for a layup to make it 36-29.
Hopkins stole the ball from Kenney and went in for a layup to make it 47-41 with 10:04 to go, but that was the beginning of the end for SDSU, which suddenly lost all semblance of an offense and did not score again until 3:16 remained.
Kenney started LSU's comeback with a free throw, followed by Jones' inside basket. Barrett's free throws tied it at 47 with 7:22 to go.
"We focused," Jones said. "We listened to our coaches about relying on our defense and just getting the ball in the paint and making layups."
The volume of the roars from the heavily pro-LSU crowd continued to rise as the Lady Tigers surged into the lead on Bianca Lutley's turnaround and inside basket. Barrett's free throws capped the surge, making it 53-47 with 4:09 left.
Clements, who missed five of six shots in the second half, banked in a 3-pointer with 1:04 to go to make it 58-54, but Barrett came back with a pair of free throws and LSU held on comfortably from there.
LSU led by as many as eight early in the first half after a 7-2 spurt that included Kenney's jumper and Barrett's layup.
San Diego State clawed back with the help of Clements' 14 first-half points. She followed a jumper with a steal and fast-break layup to put SDSU up 25-22, and Chairese Culberson's jumper gave the Aztecs a 27-22 lead late in the half before Krystal Forthan's jumper and Kenney's 3 pulled the Lady Tigers back into a 27-all tie going into the locker room.