WACO, Texas — At this point last year, the LSU women’s basketball team was about as low as it could be.
The Lady Tigers just finished one of the worst seasons in recent memory when it failed to reach the NCAA tournament for only the second time since 1997.
It wasn’t like there was much to build on for next year, either, only returning three major contributors.
After Saturday night’s season-ending loss to California in the first round of the NCAA tournament, LSU still wasn’t in much of a partying mood, but the Lady Tigers do have one thing they didn’t in the past — hope.
“Last year, I had them fill out the bracket with — we knew we didn't have a chance of getting our name called, but they needed to know what that felt like,” coach Nikki Fargas said. “When they did that, I think it sent a message to them throughout the entire summer that we wanted to have our name called and have an opportunity to play and be in the hunt, if you will, for a championship.”
It’s true LSU loses three starters in forward Alexis Hyder and guards Rina Hill and Jasmine Rhodes. The trio accounting for 18.5 points and 10.1 rebounds per game, almost one-third of the team’s combined production in the two categories this season.
But they return players like guard Raigyne Moncrief, who led the Lady Tigers in points (507), rebounds (188) assists (92) and is one more good season away from becoming the program’s all-time leader in steals. She sits 115 behind Pokey Chatman (1987-91) after recording a school-record 107 steals this season.
LSU will also get back rising junior Chloe Jackson who was one of its best shooters with a .414 percentage, along with the possible return of Jenna Deemer who missed the majority of this season with an undisclosed illness, a loss LSU spent a large portion of the season trying to remedy.
But the main area where the Lady Tigers look to build next year is the post.
LSU was routinely undersized both in and out of conference. It entered the tournament with only three players over 6-foot.
Hyder was effective despite her lack of height, but there’s only so much a 5-foot-11 post player can do against much taller centers. Ultimately, LSU’s season ended with Hyder’s possible game-winning layup getting blocked by Cal’s 6-foot-4 center Kristine Anigwe with 10 seconds to play.
Forward Ayana Mitchell, a 6-foot-2 rising sophomore will return for the Lady Tigers next season along with 6-foot-5 rising sophomore center Faustine Aifuwa who missed the season with a knee injury. Mitchell spent most of the year coming off the bench but provided 8.1 points and 5.4 rebounds per game.
LSU also looks forward to the arrival of five-star recruit Raven Farley from Elizabeth, New Jersey, who at 6-foot-3 and ranked as ESPN’s 19th best player in her class. She is expected to make an immediate impact for the Lady Tigers.
In the course of one offseason, the post has the potential to go from an overwhelming disadvantage to a strength for LSU.
LSU also has commitments from four-star point guard in Khayla Pointer from Georgia to go with three-star point guards Dekeriya Patterson (Florida) and Jailin Cherry (Mississippi).
“The future of the LSU program is very good,” Fargas said. “We’ve got a great class coming in. We return some experience. We also signed a young lady with size, Raven Farley. We missed Faustine Aifuwa, our 6-foot5 kid. I think she really would have made a difference had she not been out this season with a knee injury. We'll get her back. So along with some really good guards, we are going to still be athletic and quick on the perimeter, but we're going to be bigger.”