The LSU women’s basketball team doesn’t have much time to dwell on its shortcomings against No. 11 Mississippi State.
Another ranked opponent is waiting right around the corner.
The injury-stricken Lady Tigers, losers in seven of their past eight games, will begin the final six-game stretch of Southeastern Conference play when they take on No. 18 Kentucky at 11 a.m. Sunday in Memorial Coliseum in Lexington, Kentucky.
Despite their ranking, the Wildcats (15-6, 4-6) find themselves in the bottom half of the league table. Kentucky is in the midst of a three-game losing skid, but LSU coach Nikki Fargas isn’t reading much into her opponent’s recent struggles.
“I know they are going to be very hungry for a win, and they’re at home,” Fargas said after the loss to the Bulldogs. “We are going to have to be mentally and physically focused for 40 minutes on Sunday.”
The Lady Tigers (8-15, 2-8) have their own struggles to worry about, problems that again reared their heads in a 71-52 loss to Mississippi State on Thursday night that was more lopsided than the score suggests. Down to just eight healthy scholarship players, LSU couldn’t keep pace as it shot 29.4 percent from the field and scored only 26 points through the first three quarters.
There were, however, a handful of bright spots.
The Lady Tigers held their own in the first quarter, using persistent defense and aggressive offense to end the period tied at 10. They committed only 13 turnovers in the game, a significant step down from their 24 giveaways in the previous loss to Auburn.
Then came LSU’s 26-point eruption in the fourth quarter, which junior guard Rina Hill attributed to her team’s aggressiveness in the face of a deficit that ballooned to 28 points. Fargas was particularly pleased with freshman guard Shanice Norton, who tied her career-high and led all scorers with 15 points.
“I think I was just executing on what coach wanted me to do,” Norton said of her performance Thursday night. “Using my team to get open and just playing with my team.”
Fargas said she hopes her squad can capitalize on those bright spots against Kentucky, which suffered a 10-point loss at undefeated, second-ranked South Carolina on Thursday night.
After facing the league’s third-best scorer in Mississippi State sophomore guard Victoria Vivians, the Lady Tigers will take on the SEC’s second-best scorer, Kentucky junior guard Makayla Epps. The Wildcats have two other players who average in double figures — Janee Thompson at 12.2 and Evelyn Akhator at 11.6 — and the team is dominant on the boards with nearly 40 rebounds per game.
“Kentucky has some tough post players on the inside,” Fargas said. “We have another battle on our hands on the inside. Obviously Makayla Epps has done a great job being that go-to player.”