Less than two minutes into LSU victory at No. 10 Texas A&M Thursday, coach Nikki Fargas called a timeout to head off what she hoped wasn’t to become a recurrent nightmare.
LSU had given up three consecutive layups to trail 6-2 and Fargas wanted no repeat of the slow start at Missouri that doomed the Tigers in a 69-65 loss. LSU trailed by 21 at halftime to a 3-11 team.
This time, the Tigers caught their breath and grinded through a 57-54 victory, the first road victory against a top 10 opponent since an 80-77 win at Tennessee Jan. 2, 2014.
Fargas is hoping that the start-to-finish effort her team showed carries the Tigers when they return home Sunday to play Ole Miss (7-9, 0-3) at 2 p.m.
“Our shot selection and not taking care of the ball led to easy baskets,” Fargas said. “We had to hit the reset button, dial them down a little bit. Emotions come into play. We settled in and slowed the pace down. Take your time, be patient and let’s work with our post game.
“It was a big win. We want to keep that momentum going. The second half at Missouri was a good half and we were able to go to College Station and play 40 minutes of tough, physical basketball.”
The two-game swing was a good example of the yin and yang in SEC sports. Every game is up for grabs and Fargas is hoping her team learned its lesson, especially since Ole Miss is limping into the Pete Maravich Assembly Center as a wounded team.
Second-leading scorer Valerie Nesbitt was dismissed from the squad Tuesday for actions that “have not been above the line,” coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin said. The Rebels were already shorthanded when starter Sarah Dumitrescu was lost for the season six games in with a knee injury.
Ole Miss lost its last two games to Texas A&M and Tennessee by a combined 100 points.
“The challenge is to stay motivated, aggressive and respectful,” Fargas said. “Their record is no indication of how hard they play and that any game in the SEC can be stolen on the road. We have to have the same focus as if we’re playing Texas A&M or any ranked opponent. Our biggest opponent will always be us.”
LSU appeared to be winning that battle last week. The Tigers got a season-best performance from Jailn Cherry, who played 29 minutes off the bench and scored a team-high 12 points. Her night included six rebounds, three on the offensive glass, with three assists, two steals and the game’s biggest defensive play.
With LSU clinging to a 55-54 lead, Cherry drew a charging foul with 26 seconds left. A&M fouled on the inbounds play and Awa Trasi extended the lead to 57-54 by making two free throws. Leading scorers Ayana Mitchell and Khayla Pointer, who averaged a combined 30.3 points per game, had 16 in a physical battle
“We have been looking for that,” Fargas said of Cherry’s effort. “We tell them ‘fill your stat line.’ It’s not just scoring, what are you doing defensively, rebounding, assists, free throws. Jailin was able to fill her stat line.
“(Ole Miss) will challenge us from the perimeter. They still have scoring punch. We have to cover our matchups. The three-ball is something that has plagues us and we have to control the boards.”