Coming into Sunday, Faustine Aifuwa hit double-digit points once in her brief career at LSU as a consistent spark off the bench.
But when the Lady Tigers fell ice cold, in the midst of a 9 1/2 minute spell in which Vanderbilt erased a 16-point deficit, it wasn’t any of the “Big Three” to break the slump.
It was Aifuwa.
Without the redshirt freshman getting hot at just the right time, LSU might not have walked away from its Southeastern Conference opener with a 85-65 win.
Raigyne Louis, Chloe Jackson and Ayana Mitchell all tried to jump-start the Lady Tigers’ offense, but little fell their way as the Lady Commodores chipped away at what was previously a commanding lead with a brutal 27-7 run.
It wasn’t until Aifuwa put up six points in a little over a minute of game time that LSU (9-3) found any sort of rhythm again, setting up what became a cushy victory to open conference play.
“I knew I was kind of off at the beginning and my teammates kept my confidence up and I knew I could get every board and put back every shot,” Aifuwa said. “When I had that mentality, it came easy for me.
“I’ve been practicing my post moves in practice and it finally paid off. It felt good helping my teammates out.”
A crucial sixth man for LSU off the bench, Aifuwa finished the game with a career-high 14 points to go with her six rebounds and a pair of blocks.
All but two of those points and the entirety of her rebounds and blocks all came after she sunk a pair of free throws with 2:36 remaining in the third quarter, which put LSU back on track to claim the home win.
The performance continues a recent personal hot streak for Aifuwa after she produced six points, nine rebounds and seven blocks just a few days earlier against Sam Houston State.
Louis and Jackson did eventually find their rhythm once Aifuwa found hers.
Louis scored 21 points against Vanderbilt while Jackson posted a season-high 25 points. The two also provided LSU with a combined 11 steals, 11 rebounds and eight assists.
“It was awesome when (Aifuwa) started to get hyped on offense and she scored her little hook shot,” Louis said. “That's something she’s worked on in practice and we saw her do it in practice and it’s great to see it in a game. When she got hyped, that picked up our tempo defensively and offensively as well.”
Fargas said the mid-game dry spell on offense was the result of a lack of intensity on defense.
Vanderbilt went 9 of 16 during the run, but finished the game 3 of 17 after it.
“I don’t think we were playing as hard as we needed to defensively," LSU coach Nikki Fargas said. "I really challenged them to pick up their defensive intensity, which they did. And I really challenged our point guards to run the basketball. … We wanted to get the tempo at much more of an up-and-down pace.”
The Lady Tigers also continued their recent increase of 3-point shooting on Sunday, although it wasn’t quite as successful as last time out against Sam Houston State.
LSU finished 6 of 17 from behind the arc against Vanderbilt. It was only the third time this year it finished with more than three from distance.
Jackson led the way, shooting 3 of 7, but Louis also hit multiple threes for the second time this week after going her entire career without doing so before then.
The win also extends the Lady Tigers’ win streak to seven games heading into Wednesday’s trip to No. 16 Missouri.