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.”