It’s only an exhibition game, but LSU’s preseason basketball opener at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center against Loyola of New Orleans is much more than that for Raigyne Moncrief.

The talented LSU guard had her freshman season cut short in March when she went down with a season-ending left knee injury in the Lady Tigers’ NCAA tournament opener against Georgia Tech.

LSU went on to the Sweet 16, but Moncrief was merely a spectator. Now she’s back with one goal foremost in her mind:

“To play comfortably,” Moncrief said Tuesday. “I want to play where I don’t even have to think about my knee. I want to play like Ray.”

Playing “like Ray” would be a welcomed sight for an LSU team ranked No. 24 in the preseason USA Today coaches’ poll.

Moncrief averaged 10.1 points per game last season to earn a spot on the Southeastern Conference All-Freshman team and recognition as the LSWA Louisiana Freshman of the Year.

LSU coach Nikki Caldwell, who has likened Moncrief’s talent to former Lady Tigers’ All-American Marie Ferdinand, said she won’t try to hold her back Wednesday.

“Ray’s ready,” Caldwell said. “If she wasn’t, we wouldn’t play her.”

The game will also mark a long-awaited return to the court for 6-foot guard/forward Akilah Bethel, a transfer from West Virginia and one of six newcomers on this team.

Bethel started playing organized basketball when her mother coached her 6-year-old team. But she sat out part of the 2012-13 season after a knee injury, and all of the 2013-14 season as a transfer.

“I feel like I haven’t put on a jersey in like forever,” the Baltimore native said.

Bethel said her time on the bench watching has made her a better player.

“I learned to see things through the coaches’ eyes,” Bethel said. “Players can be stubborn. I learned to put my faith in them.”

Caldwell said she hasn’t settled on a starting lineup yet, though junior guard Danielle Ballard and point guard Rina Hill appear to be penciled in.

“We’ll look at different lineups and combinations,” Caldwell said.

The Lady Tigers will also play an exhibition game at 1 p.m. Sunday against Morehouse College.

There will be no admission charge for either game.

The Lady Tigers open the regular season at 11:30 a.m. Friday, Nov. 14 against Arkansas-Little Rock.

Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.