NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The LSU Lady Tigers lost Friday afternoon to Texas A&M in the Southeastern Conference basketball tournament quarterfinals. They were home in Baton Rouge by Friday night.
Now with eight days to go before they find out where their fate lies in the NCAA tournament — the 64-team will be revealed at 6 p.m. March 12 on ESPN — it’s time to take advantage of the break that’s been imposed on the Lady Tigers.
“I think the main thing we need to do is give them a break away from basketball,” LSU coach Nikki Fargas said after her team’s 75-69 loss to the Aggies. “Make sure they’re getting caught up with their academics. It’s been a tough stretch for us being on the road so much in SEC play. The other part of it is getting us back regrouped, focusing in on being a better defensive team. Understanding the turnaround time of preparation is going to be fast. You’re going to be going against teams you probably have not played, and probably teams as talented as any you’ve played.”
Fargas made it clear she hasn’t been pleased by her team’s defensive intensity.
“Getting back to the fundamentals,” Fargas said. “Guarding somebody. Keeping them in front of you. I thought we gave up way too much dribble penetration. We’ve got to be better.”
Another point of emphasis over the coming week: remodeling an offensive culture that has become overly dependent on All-SEC guards Chloe Jackson and Raigyne Louis and forward Ayana Mitchell. They combined Friday for 50 of the Lady Tigers’ 69 points.
“There are certain people that people aren’t playing on our team,” Fargas said, referring to how teams defend the Lady Tigers. “They’ve got to step up and be ready to knock down some shots for us. That takes pressure off Louis and Jackson, because they were basically channeling two people on them a lot. It’s hard for them every single possession to figure out how to score against that.”
The Lady Tigers dreamed of parlaying what would have been a long-shot run to the SEC tournament title into a top four NCAA regional seed. The top four teams in each regional get to host first- and second-round NCAA games.
While failing to win a game in the SEC tournament for the first time since 2010 effectively ended those hopes, the Lady Tigers have little to worry about in terms of not earning an NCAA at-large bid. ESPN women’s bracketologist Charlie Crème, in Nashville for the SEC tournament, said on the SEC Network on Friday night that he still projects LSU as a No. 6 regional seed. The Lady Tigers No. 28 RPI would appear to be in agreement with that projection.
If there is a silver lining for the Lady Tigers, it’s that SEC play has prepared them for just about whatever style of team and caliber of talent they may encounter in NCAA play.
“When you play teams like Missouri and Vandy and Arkansas, they like to shoot a lot of threes,” Fargas said. “So we’ve been able to guard that. When you play teams like Tennessee, Mississippi State, or when you have a true five player like (Texas AUM center Khaalia) Hillsman, those are players we’ve had to guard, some of the best in the country. We need to take some of that success we’ve had and bundle it all up and take it on the road.”
Where on the road is anyone’s guess, though Crème’s most recent tournament projection had LSU as a No. 6 seed playing at UCLA against No. 11 Purdue, with the host Bruins a No. 3 seed. It’s an interesting prospect since Fargas coached at UCLA for three seasons before moving to LSU in 2011, the kind of intriguing potential second-round matchup NCAA selection committees frequently enjoy creating.
As much as the Lady Tigers possibly have to look forward to, the sting of Friday’s defeat will likely linger awhile.
“We want to continue this journey, especially with this group,” Fargas said. “We were right there. And I feel like it’s a missed opportunity for us to have shown that we’ve grown and that we can move forward and be that team.”