floridalsu.022219 HS 055.JPG

LSU head coach Nikki Fargas coaches against Florida, Thursday, February 21, 2019, at LSU's Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge, La.

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Having the best defensive team statistically in the Southeastern Conference a year ago was something to be proud of, to be sure, for Nikki Fargas and the LSU women’s basketball team.

But Fargas and the Lady Tigers knew as soon as the season ended without an NCAA tournament bid for only the second time in her eight seasons where they came up short.

A quick study showed an inconsistent offense in a 16-13 season that included a 7-9 SEC mark, just Fargas’ third losing season in league play.

“We needed to have more consistent play. We needed to make baskets and score the ball,” she said at SEC women’s basketball media day. “We were getting enough looks … we had great looks. We just weren’t consistent enough to knock the shots down.”

The SEC stats proved that.

LSU was eighth in field-goal percentage at 42.5% and were at the bottom of the 14-team league in 3-point field-goals at 29.4%. The Lady Tigers were also 12th in scoring offense in putting up 61.7 points a game.

By comparison, LSU allowed just 56.2 points a game, two points better than a Mississippi State team that went 33-3 and won the SEC regular-season and tournament titles.

The Lady Tigers held opponents to 39.6% shooting — with a league-best 27.5% from beyond the 3-point arc.

Part of the reason was the play in the low post by 6-foot-2 Ayana Mitchell, an All-SEC first-team pick who averaged 13.5 points and 10.5 rebounds a game, and 6-5 center Faustine Aifuwa.

Fargas said Mitchell and Aifuwa form the best inside tandem in the SEC.

Still, the offense needed to be addressed.

“We had makeable shots,” she said. “So we think we made some talented additions that will allow us to fill that gap. We needed players who could stretch the defense and give us more looks from 3-point range.”

Fargas said her team came up short by two or three possessions in several games, which may have been the difference in staying home in March with 16 victories as opposed to winning 19 or 20 games and being in the NCAA tournament.

Seven of their 13 losses were by seven points or less with five coming against SEC opposition.

There was a three-point setback to Tennessee in the SEC tournament, two four-point losses to Kentucky and Texas A&M, and a five-point defeat at Kentucky.

“When you look at the stats, there were those two or three possessions,” Fargas said. “It was disappointing.”

She decided she needed to tweak her offense to take advantage of her team’s talent with more motion and four players out on the perimeter — which she hadn’t used in a while.

Fargas hopes that adding Louisiana Gatorade player of the year Tiara Young, junior-college transfer Awa Trasi and Domonique Davis to go with returning point guard Khayla Pointer will provide the boost they need.

“This will give us some quick hits, some dribble-drive, some high-ball screens,” Fargas said. “It’s more like a motion offense; we have the depth to do it now.

“I like the look of our team this year returning the No. 1 defense in the league and our offense, we’re going to get even better. I’m excited about this team.”

Email Sheldon Mickles at smickles@theadvocate.com