Non-conference play has come to pass and the Lady Tigers of LSU begin SEC play tonight in Athens against the Georgia Bulldogs (6pm CT, SECN+).
Nikki Fargas’ squad enters SEC play at 9-3, with their two most impressive wins being an a 78-49 win over South Florida December 30, and a 58-45 road victory against a 12-1 Florida State squad.
Junior forward Ayana Mitchell leads the Tigers in both scoring, 14 per game, and rebounding with 9 per game. Not only is Mitchell LSU’s top scorer, she is one of the nation’s most efficient shooters, knocking down nearly 60 percent of her attempts. Her 59.8 field goal percentage is 18th nationally and second in the conference.
Mitchell is one of two Tigers to average double-digit points, with sophomore guard Khayla Pointer right behind her with 12 points a game. Pointer is also the team leader in assists with five per game.
Scoring isn’t exactly the Lady Tigers’ strong point. The Tigers average 66 points a game, and shoot a mere 44 percent from the floor. The three-ball isn’t much of a weapon either as the team is collectively shooting 32 percent beyond the line. Pointer is knocking down threes at a promising 45 percent clip, but she’s only attempted 20 threes all season. Junior guard Jaelyn Richard-Harris leads the team in attempted threes with 36 and has knocked down 36 percent of her attempts. Perhaps most troubling of all is LSU’s struggle at the free throw line, hitting only 59 percent of their freebies.
The calling card of a Nikki Fargas coached team, however, is defense and, once again, that’s where the Tigers are at their best. LSU ranks sixth across the nation in points allowed a game with 51 and absolutely put the clamps down on the perimeter, holding opponents to 27.7 percent from three. The Tigers try to bring down opponents into the muck and that’s how they’ve found their success this season. Case in point, in LSU’s win over Florida State the Seminoles were held scoreless for the entire second quarter.
The conference as a whole is, once again, fairly stout from top to bottom. Only Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Florida come into conference play with a losing record.
Mississippi State is coming off losses in the NCAA title game in back-to-back years, with last season’s defeat to Notre Dame still particularly heartbreaking. State led by as many as 15 before watching their lead slip away to the Irish. But, despite the departure of four seniors, Mississippi State is still a top-ten team and senior center Teaira McCowan was named preseason conference player of the year.
The usual suspects, Tennessee and Kentucky are currently ranked 10th and 16th respectively, recent powers Texas A&M and South Carolina are 21st and 23rd and Auburn is knocking on the door of a top-25 ranking thanks to their 12-1 record. Expect these five programs to battle it out for the top-four seeds and a double bye in the conference tournament to be held in Greenville, South Carolina.
For LSU, a top-four SEC finish may not be expected as the Tigers were picked ninth preseason. But LSU was in the same situation last year and surprised everyone with an 11-5 SEC record and fourth place finish in conference. If the Tigers can’t repeat last season’s success, expect LSU to wrestle with the likes of Arkansas, Missouri, Alabama and tonight’s opponent Georgia, for that 5th through 10th range. The absolute worst case scenario is LSU stumbles down toward the bottom and plays on the conference tournament’s first day, Wednesday March 6.
Conference play begins today and runs through March 3rd. The schedule is a single round robin with one permanent opponent, two rotating opponents. Texas A&M remains LSU’s permanent opponent. The month of January will be absolutely brutal, with games against A&M, Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and State. All of those games, aside from Tennessee, will be home in the PMAC. February isn’t much easier with LSU having to make return trips to A&M, Kentucky and State. LSU’s regular season concludes with a home contest against Auburn March 3.