Facing Tennessee always holds a special meaning for Nikki Fargas.
The LSU women’s basketball coach played in Knoxville from 1990-1994, served there as a graduate assistant from 1998-1999 and returned to her alma mater for a seven-year stint as an assistant coach beginning in 2002. Two of Fargas’ current assistant coaches, Tasha Butts and Tony Perotti, also have ties to the Lady Volunteers’ program.
Fargas credited former Tennessee coaches Pat Summitt and Mickie DeMoss and current coach Holly Warlick for helping her get where she is today.
“It always will have a special place in my heart because it’s obviously my alma mater, but I wouldn’t be sitting here as the head women’s basketball coach without the journey that I was able to take alongside not only some great players, but some great coaches,” she said. “They’ve meant so much to me personally and professionally.”
But Fargas will need to put those feelings aside when the Lady Tigers host the No. 24 Lady Vols at 1 p.m. Sunday in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. LSU (8-18, 2-11 Southeastern Conference) has lost 12 of the past 14 meetings, with its last win coming on the road in 2014.
The Lady Tigers have lost six straight games but recently received a little more depth with the return of sophomore guard Jenna Deemer and senior forward Ann Jones.
Both players suited up for the first time in weeks in the team’s 14-point loss to No. 12 Texas A&M on Thursday, with Deemer providing nine points and two steals. Jones registered only two points and one rebound while battling foul trouble.
Tennessee (16-10, 7-6 SEC) is a force on the boards, averaging almost 41 rebounds per game. Senior forward Bashaara Graves and sophomore center Mercedes Russell both grab nearly 8.5 boards per contest while scoring 10.2 points an outing.
Fargas said her team needs to match Graves’ intensity and be ready for a physical contest with the 6-foot-6 Russell.
“You have to keep them off the boards,” the coach said. “That’s been a staple of theirs.”
But Fargas knows the Lady Vols’ biggest threat is sophomore guard Diamond DeShields, who puts up 13.3 points and 5.1 rebounds per contest. LSU will counter with junior forward Alexis Hyder, its leading scorer and rebounder.
The game, which will be televised on ESPNU, marks the Lady Tigers’ annual Pink game to raise awareness for breast cancer and other cancers that affect women. Cancer survivors will be honored with a parade at halftime.
“We’re going to do our part in representing by wearing our pink sneakers and uniforms and things like that, and we’re going to go out and we’re going to battle on the boards and battle for loose balls,” Fargas said. “But it definitely puts it in perspective that people are out there battling for their lives.”