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LSU head coach Nikki Fargas points to her players as she shares a laugh on the court in the Lady Tigers' SEC season opener against Alabama, Thursday, January 2, 2020, at LSU's Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge, La.

The LSU women’s basketball team’s propensity for poor starts only got worse with a return to the Maravich Assembly Center for Friday’s home opener against Central Florida.

The Lady Tigers failed to make a field goal in the first 15:07 and despite a late run could not dig out of a deep hole in a 58-48 loss to the Knights.

LSU (0-3) missed its first 16 shots until reserve Sharna Ayres hit a short jumper with 4:53 left in the second quarter. It didn’t get much better, with the Lady Tigers trailing 42-25 after three quarters and shooting 27.3% (15 of 55) for the game. LSU also struggled from the free-throw line, hitting 10 of 21.

The Lady Tigers scored 23 points in the final quarter and twice made runs to cut the margin to 11, but UCF (2-0) answered each time with 6-0 runs to push the lead back out. The lone bright spot was junior newcomer Sarah Shematsi, who came off the bench to hit five 3-point shots for 15 points.

“We had a lot of missed opportunities, wide-open shots, reversals, we only had three made field goals in the first half,” LSU coach Nikki Fargas said. “That puts a lot of pressure on your defense in the second half.

“I will say I saw a lot of fight in our team. We were able to score and set up our press. It’s a plus for us, but we can’t set it unless we are making baskets.”

LSU also got 15 points from Khalya Pointer, who made 5 of 13 shots. Leading scorer Faustine Aifuwa was blanketed inside and held to two points on a basket with a minute remaining. Aifuwa was 1 for 6 from the field but had a team-high eight rebounds and three blocked shots.

The point total matched the fewest in a home opener since the program’s first game, a 64-48 loss to Whitworth in 1975.

Courtajia Sanders led the visitors with 22 points and Brittney Smith added 13. Diamond Battles had 10 rebounds to help UCF dominate the rebounding with a 41-26 edge.

The early moments of the game were promising for the Lady Tigers. LSU was ahead 3-0 on free throws while the visitors went scoreless for the first 3:37, committing four turnovers and five fouls. LSU forced shot-clock violations on the first two possessions. But UCF scored the next 22 points and led 28-6.

Sanders scored half of the points in the 22-0 run.

LSU went to full court pressure late in the third quarter and started to make some headway, forcing multiple turnovers. Three 3-point baskets by Shematsi and a driving layup by Pointer made it 44-33 with 7:30 left, leaving LSU with some hope.

But Smith scored a second-chance basket, and the Knights beat LSU down the court for easy layups after two more missed LSU baskets. LSU fought back again on 3-pointers by Pointer and Shematsi, but two more breakaway layups by Sanders sandwiched around a jumper by Alisha Lewis pushed the lead back to 17 points.

“I thought Sarah Shematsi was gutsy tonight, stepping up and making shots from the perimeter,” Fargas said. “We did a nice job in the second half of finding her. We’ve got to play for 40 minutes, have that type of execution for 40 minutes and not have a quarter where we don’t score a field goal.”