The 2020-21 edition of the LSU Lady Tiger’s women’s basketball team never quite found its footing as the Lady Tigers finished a disappointing 9-13 and missed the tournament.
LSU started the season a dismal 2-4 in non-conference, a result that nearly ended the Lady Tigers tournament hopes before conference play even began.
The Lady Tigers managed to resuscitate their season in conference play with a 6-3 start which included handing Texas A&M its only regular season loss.
LSU followed that up by losing every single game in February to finish 6-8 in SEC play.
In the SEC tournament, LSU went 1-1 falling in the quarterfinals ending their season without an NCAA bid.
What went wrong
Perhaps the defining feature of the season was the Lady Tigers struggles from behind the arc. The Lady Tigers were last in the league with just 67 made threes and shot 27.9% from behind the arc.
Along with the struggles from behind the arc, LSU was unable to replace Ayana Mitchell, especially her rebounding. Mitchell closed her career with 911 rebounds, making her one of the best rebounders LSU has ever had.
Without Mitchell, the team went from averaging 37.8 rebounds per game to 33.5 per game and dropped from a +4.7 rebounding margin to a -3.0 margin. The drop was critical in LSU’s fall from 20 wins the previous season to just 9 this season.
Along with her rebounding, Mitchell was one of the most efficient scorers in the country in 2019-20 making 68% of her shots, the second best in the nation. The Lady Tigers were never able to replace that efficiency and LSU dropped from 43% to 38% from the field.
Despite losing a veteran starter like Mitchell, the Tigers were loaded with experience. LSU played five seniors as starters for most of the season and six of their seven leaders in minutes were seniors.
It was the most experience lineup that the Lady Tigers had since the 2008 Final Four run which also started five seniors for most of the season, but the lineup struggled from out of the gate, which led to a plethora of Lady Tigers starting throughout the season..
LSU’s disappointing finish has warmed up the hot seat for coach Nikki Fargas. The program missed the tournament for the third time in six years (excluding 2020 because LSU would have made it the previous season had the tournament been held).
The hot seat further heated up when the third and fourth leading scorers, sophomore Tiara Young and senior Awa Trasi, entered the transfer portal along with three other players.
However, it may be on the verge of cooling off.
The Lady Tigers managed to snag two power forwards from fellow SEC schools in grad transfers Autumn Newby (Vanderbilt) and Ariyah Copeland (Alabama). Copeland and Newby were both elite rebounders and efficient scorers from the paint. Copeland was third in the country last season and top in the SEC in field goal percentage.
They will be critical in finally replacing what LSU lost when Mitchell graduated.
Along with the two grad transfers, LSU received the big news that seniors Khayla Pointer, Faustine Aifuwa and Jailin Cherry all will return for their extra year of eligibility.
Pointer has a very good chance of entering the top-10 in points and steals along with top-three in assists.
Aifuwa has a chance to become just the second Lady Tiger to have over 200 blocks, only Sylvia Fowles has done so before. She was just seven points away from joining the 1,000 points club and should make that in LSU’s season opener.
The returns and the grad transfers should help LSU solve most of its problems from last year for the next season, although there is still reason to wonder about three point shooting.
There is reason to hope that seniors Sarah Shematsi and Ryann Payne can help solve that gap. Payne only played major minutes in LSU’s last four games and averaged 8.5 points in those matchups. Shematsi similarly found her footing near the end of the season making 8 of her 16 threes in the final five games and averaged in those game twice the amount of points as the rest of the season.
The Lady Tigers add an additional five freshman, including a top-100 recruit in forward Grace Hall.
LSU was probably better than its record this season with multiple top 10 wins and several close SEC defeats including two single digit defeats against Final Four team South Carolina. There is reason to expect that the Lady Tigers will be better in 2020-21 with the potential to make a deep run.