To hear Nikki Fargas talk about her LSU women’s basketball team on the eve of the Southeastern Conference tournament, she sounds like a coach eager to strike a clear delineation between the regular season and what is next to come.
“We’re going to look at this as a new season,” she said.
Can you blame her?
LSU (9-20, 3-13) goes into Wednesday’s tournament opener against Alabama saddled with the most conference losses in school history, resulting in a No. 13 tournament seed. (Bama is No. 12.) The Lady Tigers’ next loss will be the most ever in a season for LSU, breaking an ignominious tie with the 1994-95 team that went 7-20.
That loss is all but inevitable, but Fargas doesn’t want her players giving in to the fates that have conspired against LSU this season.
“Our game plan,” the fifth-year coach said, “is to make sure that we control the controllables, like how hard we play, how disciplined we are in our shot selection and how hard we play on the defensive end.”
Tipoff is set for 10 a.m. at Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena. The game will air live on the SEC Network and on WBRP-FM, 107.3, in Baton Rouge.
Determined as she is to stay positive going into what is likely to be a short postseason, Fargas has seen her team dogged by personnel issues since last summer — issues that still haven’t let up.
Fargas dismissed All-SEC guard Danielle Ballard in June for disciplinary reasons. (Ballard is now playing professionally in Finland.) Another All-SEC guard, Raigyne Moncrief, and top freshman Ayana Mitchell, played just three games before being sidelined by season-ending knee injuries.
Forward Akilah Bethel broke her nose but has continued to play, battling through to average 8.3 points and 6.4 rebounds. Reserve senior forward Ann Jones only recently returned from a badly sprained ankle.
Sophomore guard Jenna Deemer, LSU’s only consistent 3-point shooting threat, won’t play Wednesday. She has missed nine of the past 12 games with an undisclosed illness that will almost certainly sideline her for however many games the Lady Tigers have left.
Despite those issues, Fargas is optimistic that her team is better equipped to beat Bama than it was Jan. 3, when LSU lost 62-45 in Tuscaloosa.
“We were adjusting to our injuries, but now we’ve settled in, and I know this team is capable of being a much better defensive team,” Fargas said. “We take pride in the fact that we’re one of the better rebounding teams that we’ve had here under my leadership, and we’re not allowing our opponents to score a lot of points. We have to take our defensive board play to another level in order to be able to come away with the win.”
Without Deemer, LSU will again turn to 5-11 junior forward Alexis Hyder to lead the way. The Lady Tigers’ top scorer and rebounder at 11.5 points and 7.8 boards, Hyder has nine double-doubles this season.
Sophomore guard Hannah Cook leads Bama at 12.2 points per game, but sophomore Meoshonti Knight from Morgan City isn’t far behind. Knight, a 5-8 guard, averages 10 points and 3.6 rebounds.
LSU graduate assistant and two-time All-SEC forward LaSondra Barrett will be honored at halftime as the school’s SEC Women’s Legend for 2016.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.