The fact that Florida has missed more 3-point shots than any other SEC women’s basketball team is no consolation to LSU.
The Gators has also have the most attempts, so lack of success isn’t an impediment to continue launching them. That makes them dangerous when the teams collide Thursday at 6:30 p.m. in the Maravich Assembly Center.
“We can’t trade 3s for 2s,” LSU leading scorer and rebounder Ayana Mitchell said. “We have to keep them off the 3-point line, turning them into jump-shooters team. We’ll focus on what we do best: defense and board play.”
It’s an excellent chance for LSU (15-9, 6-6 in SEC play) to get back above .500 in conference games for the first time since the third league game. Florida (6-18, 2-10) has lost seven of its last eight and the game precedes a tough two-game road swing for LSU at Kentucky and Mississippi State.
LSU is battling to stay relevant in the race for an NCAA tournament berth. The Lady Tigers’ RPI has dropped to 60 with a 39 ranking in strength of schedule. ESPN bracketologist has LSU as one of the last four teams in and a 10-seed in the tournament.
Even though Florida is last in 3-point percentage at 29.9 (195 of 652), getting on a roll can get the game out of hand quickly. Florida has five players with at least 19 made 3-pointers, led by Funda Nakkasoglu. She leads the SEC with 67 and is second in percentage at 41.9 (67 of 160). Reserve Ariel Johnson has hit 31 of 96.
“You have to pressure and be aware of all the 3-point shooters on the floor and you cannot rest,” LSU coach Nikki Fargas said. “They do such a great job of moving without the ball and do a good job of hunting the threes. They make eight per game. Our goal is to make those 3-point attempts as difficult as they can be. Locking into the 3-ball is going to be key for us.”
LSU leads the league in 3-point defense, allowing a 27.3 percentage and it came handy in beating Missouri and Arkansas in back-to-back games. Like those teams, Florida likes to run and spread the floor to set up the open 3-point attempts.
Fargas is happy that her team has shown some resilience of late and signs that the supporting cast is capable of stepping up when trouble hits. A season-ending injury to Rakell Spencer two games ago has left them thin and when Mitchell went down against Vanderbilt with ankle injury Sunday, others played a key part in getting a decisive victory.
Senior guard Shanice Norton stepped up with a career-high 21 points and Faustine Aifuwa had a double-double (15 points, 11 rebounds), only the third of her career. They combined to make 15 of 22 shots.
Others played small but effective roles. Latoya Ashman, who had seen limited action in 14 games, played a career high 20 minutes and had two points, two rebounds, two assists and three steals, without a turnover. Karli Seay had seven points on three of four shooting, three assists and two steals, all career highs, also without a turnover.
“To have them respond that way after losing at A&M and losing Rakell Spencer, you worry about the emotion and psyche of your kids, and your back on the road 48 hours later,” Fargas said. “What type of team was going to show up Sunday? A team that was not going to be denied. They grew up and still have some room (to grow).”
Mitchell, who is expected to start despite the ankle injury, continues to lead LSU in scoring with a 12.8 average and is fourth in the SEC in rebounding at 9.9 per game. Point guard Khayla Pointer is averaging 12.6 and is sixth in assists with 4.5 per game.
LSU will wear pink uniforms as part of the Play4Kay initiative honoring former North Carolina State women’s basketball coach and breast cancer victim Kay Yow. Fans battling cancer or cancer survivors will be admitted free and invited to participate in a halftime Survivors Parade. Fans are encouraged to wear pink to honor loved ones and advocate for research funding.