LSU women’s basketball coach Nikki Fargas has spent the last three days making sure her team learned a lesson in its last outing.
Otherwise the result this time could be worse.
When the Lady Tigers (11-5, 2-2 in SEC play) take on No. 16 Kentucky at 6:30 Thursday at the Maravich Assembly Center, there can be no easing in.
The last time out, that attitude found LSU down by 18 points after one quarter and never recovered in a 76-53 loss to South Carolina. That kind of attitude against the Wildcats’ suffocating defensive pressure and the knockout punch could come sooner.
“We wanted to highlight and make sure everyone knows this is a 40-minute game,” Fargas said of her emphasis at practice this week. “We talked to them about everybody being accountable, everybody bringing their best “dish.” In the SEC no one can take a night off. We set the tone with a lack of offensive execution. A team like South Carolina is going to exploit you the other way.”
Kentucky (15-3, 2-2) can be even greedier when sensing weakness. Wildcat opponents average 23.6 turnovers per game, nine of which come off their press, and Kentucky is averaging 25.6 points per game off turnovers. The three-guard offense is collecting 11.8 steals per game and when not converting them into layups, is hitting 38.8 percent from 3-point range.
LSU ultimately played better in the final three quarters against South Carolina but it was too late. The Lady Tigers got the message in practice this week.
“This game isn’t about not letting that happen again,” LSU forward Ayana Mitchell said. “We just want to be better than we were. We know playing against South Carolina that was not our best game. We want to play better for ourselves, to get the bad taste out. Only way to do that is play another game.”
LSU’s issues Sunday began with running their offense, further hampered by missed layups and missed free throws. But the sets led to confusion and misplacement in getting back in transition on defense. South Carolina picked them apart with open threes and drives to the basket.
Kentucky presents a different problem with their in-your-face pressure.
“Taking care of the ball will be a key,” Fragas said. “We have to make sure all five people are in sync in breaking the press and getting us into our offense.
“Our offensive execution against a team that denies really hard, we haven’t faced that type of defense. We’re getting ready for hard denial, setting up back doors, setting new screens, using dribble entries. Those are things we have to do or their pressure will disrupt us out of sorts. That’s when the turnovers come and when they get their transition game going. When they are going the other way, they’re a pretty good team.”
LSU needs its backcourt to play well. Khayla Pointer is team’s second-leading scorer (12.6 points per game) behind Mitchell (13.4). But the rest of the starting lineup also has to produce.
Pointer, who is 5-feet-7, and the other starting guards Shanice Norton (5-8) and Jaelyn Richard-Harris have a tough matchup against Kentucky guards Rhyne Howard (6-2) and Maci Morris (6-0). Howard is averaging 16.9 points and 7.1 rebounds per game and Morris is hitting 16.8 points per game. Combined they have connected on 90 3-pointers on 206 attempts, a 43.6 percentage.
LSU would like to try an take advantage of its size advantage with Mitchell and 6-5 Faustine Auifuwa, who missed all six of her shots and played only 13 minutes Sunday. In her place, 6-6 post Yasmine Bidikuindila had a career-high eight points on 4 of 6 shooting and added three rebounds, an assist and a steal.
"Yasmine is putting in the work, doing the extra, great mindset about how she can move into more minutes,” Fargas said.
“We want to make sure we look at fact they are smaller and we can go with a bigger lineup. If we can go with one that produces, we can explore that. She has shown she can do somethings that can disrupt their lineup.”