A loose ball bounced over the courtside seats near the student section midway through the first half of the LSU women’s basketball team’s 76-57 win against Ole Miss on Thursday.
Guard Shanice Norton hustled over, hurdling the protective barrier that separates fan from player, sprinting in front of the student section before returning to the court on defense.
“Ran almost up to the concession stand,” coach Nikki Fargas joked afterward. “The hustle is what we’ve been missing.”
Showcasing what a week of teamwide rebounding drills and turnover prevention-themed practices can accomplish, the Lady Tigers (7-8, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) will look to build on their most complete game of the season when they welcome No. 13 Texas A&M to the Pete Maravich Assembly Center at 3 p.m. Sunday.
After being out-rebounded in each of their previous four games — all losses — the Lady Tigers crushed the Rebels on the glass 45-32 and limited Ole Miss to 14 offensive rebounds.
“It was very, very important,” forward Alexis Hyder said with a chuckle, recalling hellish practices she had endured all week that focused on the boards. “Very, very, very, very, very important that we got box-outs and rebounds.”
Hyder, who had 10 rebounds to go with 15 points, could draw a tougher assignment Sunday. Texas A&M projects to start three players who are 6-foot or taller, including 6-5 center Khaalia Hillsman, who averages nearly six boards. As a team, though, the Aggies are 10th in the conference at 41.2 rebounds per game.
But they more than compensate on the perimeter, where the third-leading scorer in program history, senior guard Courtney Walker, averages 17.3 points. She’s the conference’s active career leader in points and is averaging 21.0 in her previous four games.
One of those games was a surprising 67-61 road loss to sub-.500 Arkansas, proving a point Fargas made after her team, which has had its share of struggles, surprised Ole Miss.
“It’s going to be an up-and-down year for a lot of teams,” she said. “Not only in the SEC, because I think there’s parity across the board. But LSU has been a team that’s built its foundation on the fact that you can defend and rebound the basketball.”
And after successfully stifling Ole Miss’ dribble drives with a 2-3 zone that forced the Rebels to launch 31 3-pointers, along with that extra emphasis on rebounding, Fargas is confident that trademark will be prevalent throughout the rest of conference play.
“You could see a difference of how we tried to play as a unit, and that’s what we’re going to hang our hat on,” Fargas said. “We can control the tempo of a game through our board play, but we also can control it the way we hustle.”
Follow Chandler Rome on Twitter, @Chandler_Rome.