Gus Stark

Lady Tigers Hold First Day of Practice

Judy Willson
Judy Willson
Communications Associate

BATON ROUGE --- The 2019-20 LSU women’s basketball season officially got underway on Tuesday afternoon. Lady Tiger head coach Nikki Fargas led her team through a spirited, first practice as LSU prepares for the upcoming year.

LSU returns four starters and nine letterwinners, led by All-SEC First Team performer Ayana Mitchell. Mitchell, a red-shirt senior, averaged a double-double last season, averaging a team-best 13.5 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. Junior Khayla Pointer was the only other player to start every game of the season and led the team with 131 assists while averaging 12.5 points per game. Mitchell and Pointer were also two of the team’s top defenders with 48 steals each.

In the post, red-shirt junior Faustine Aifuwa returns as the second-most consistent shooter at 46.9 percent from the field, behind Mitchell’s 56.3 percent. Aifuwa was also the top shot-blocker on the squad with 44 and second-leading rebounder with 6.4 per game on the season.

Senior Jaelyn Richard-Harris and junior Jailin Cherry saw time in the starting lineup last season in the point guard and shooting guard positions. Others who picked up starts last season were senior Mercedes Brooks, junior Karli Seay and red-shirt junior Rakell Spencer. Spencer had earned her way into the starting lineup midway through SEC play last season before a knee injury sidelined her on February 7 against Arkansas.

LSU brought in the No. 20 recruiting class according to espnW HoopGurlz with freshmen Tiara Young and Domonique Davis. Young, the Louisiana Player of the Year, ranked No. 25 in the nation in the espnW HoopGurlz Top 100 Class of 2019, while Davis was a First Team All-Louisiana Player and was the No. 19-ranked point guard in the country. Young spent her first three years of high school at Evangel Academy in Shreveport before playing her senior season at Walker High School in Denham Springs. Davis hails from DeRidder High School.

LSU’s first game of the season is set for Tuesday, November 5 at 6:30 p.m. at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center against New Orleans.

Fargas met with the media before practice and her are some of her comments:

Opening Statement…

Some of the key things that this group has showcased over the summer, is how hungry they are to get into the season. They're very excited about the upcoming season. They're excited about the potential that we have to play such a competitive non-conference schedule. We're obviously fully aware that the Women's Fin al Four is going to be held in New Orleans and our destination is 80 miles from here is to get there. And we know that the journey that we're going to have to take is going to be one where we've got to score the basketball, put some points on the board, and we've got the tools to do so. We got a great returning nucleus that has led us in scoring. Three of our top scorers are returning this season, along with the class that we've added. We feel like offensively; we can really be more effective on the offensive end. Then defensively, as you guys know, our team last year led the league in being the number one defense in the league and that's still going to be a goal of ours. So this group is ready. They had a fabulous summer and worked extremely hard. Again, we partnered with the Louisiana (State) Police Department, and every Friday was Fourth Quarter Friday and they really got after it. Our strength coach and our athletic trainer, Chris White and Amanda Barbee, kept them healthy and fit and we're ready to go the season.

 

On the excitement of the first practice…

Well, we've been in preseason. So we've been training one hour, four days a week on the court and obviously today with the being the official first day of practice, we know that practice is going to be a little bit longer today, but I want that intensity to still be there that they had all throughout the preseason. I expect nothing less from the leadership of our upperclassmen. Ayana Mitchell has been the epitome of what you want your returning senior to look like, how you want her to talk, how you want her to lead this team, and we've got some very eager followers. We're expecting not only Ayana Mitchell to step up, but Faustine Aifuwa who had a great year last year. We feel like she can give us a lot more. Jalaysha Thomas is going to be eligible this year. We signed Awa Trasi, a young lady from France who can also help in that area of scoring.  Our guard play is really solid. Jaelyn Richard-Harris is a senior, Mercedes Brooks is a senior, LaToya Ashman is a senior. We got some leadership here and experience and I truly feel like that's going to help us this season.

 

On what needs to be established early…

Well, what we want to establish early with this team is to understand that when your state is hosting the NCAA Women's Final Four, that you do not want to be a spectator. You want to be a participant, and from the first day that we got back this summer, in June, we wanted to have that concept of playing in front of your own families, your own friends, and representing your state. You can look at it in a number of different ways - you can say, hey, that's pressure, or you're painting a picture for them of where their final destination needs to be this season. That's what I want from our kids, and I think they have done an amazing job of accepting that early challenge but it's what they do every day. So every day we want to improve in certain areas of the game. We want to be one of the best running teams in the country. We want to be one of the best scoring teams both inside and outside, and to have that threat and we want to control the tempo of the game through our board play.

 

On what steps were taken to improve this year …

I think improving our offense. We really looked at trying to sign some players that can come in and give us an offensive punch, if you will. We wanted to sign versatile players. We had the number one defense in the country, or in the in the league, so a lot of teams weren't scoring a lot of points on us. So we're not giving up a lot of points. We also have to be more efficient in our scoring at the free throw line. I thought that was an area that plagued us last year where we didn't shoot the ball as well. So spending a lot of time on our mechanics, our technique, making the free throw seem like shooting a layup. So attacking it from the mental side, and you can't stress enough making layups and wide open shots. So just really challenging this group to be more committed in the offseason and getting in the gym and working on their game and being more efficient as basketball players on the offensive end.

 

On the team’s bond early on…

I mean, this group is probably one of the closest groups that I've had here in a long time. I feel like they care about each other in a way that there's this sisterhood that has developed and they're taking the passion that they have from the game and they combined it to just be as one and one of the things that we're talking about this season, and one of the things that we're going to harp on is how do we play this game as one. They're doing things off the court together. They're doing things that I don't know of together whether it's someone cooking or someone inviting them over to, you know, Ayana Mitchell will cook for the freshmen or something. Just little things like that makes a huge difference in in your team chemistry. If our team chemistry, if this summer is any indication, and this preseason is any indication of what our team chemistry is going to be, it's going to be that of a team that's like a family. They're going to play like that, and they're going to represent this university because we're 100% committed to LSU Women's Basketball being one of the best programs in the country.

 

On excitement of the non-conference home games…

Well, real excited. We tip off November (5)th, and we've got a local opponent down the street in New Orleans, but I think that's a great thing to be able to play talent here in our state. November 9th, we have Florida State coming here, so that's going to be a great challenge, if you will, with an SEC team right off the bat playing an ACC team. The November 9th game, we're going to recognize the men and women who have worked with our team in the offseason with the Louisiana (State) Police Department and obviously November 11, you have Veterans Day so we're going to recognize the men and women of service to our country and it's just going to be a great weekend. Obviously, that's the weekend that we play Alabama so we're going to be ready to take on Florida State and be ready to cheer on our Tigers as we go to Alabama and get that victory.

 

On the advantage of returning four starters…

It's a huge advantage. It gives us experience and we still got a young starting group. This team is one of the best teams in the SEC. We have First Team All-SEC Ayana Mitchell returning. There can be arguments this season, that Faustine Aifuwa is one of the best centers in our league, Khayla Pointer, having played year and a half for us and what she was able to accomplish in the SEC if you look at her numbers and how they got better as the season went along and her returning is such a refreshing time for the LSU Tigers to have that experience coming back. We were in hostile environments last year, we played some tough competition. We did not execute the way that we wanted to. You're talking about four or five games where we're talking about one possession, two possession games. So I think this team is understanding that we've got to be very precise and diligent in finishing off games. To have that experience and to have them have gone through that last season, they're going to be ready, they're going to be ready not only with the schedule that we committed to for the non-conference schedule, we're playing Florida State, we're playing Rutgers, we're playing Tulane again which is another team that's an NCAA team typically. Little Rock is another NCAA team. We've got a very tough non-conference schedule to help prepare us for SEC play.

 

On how Ayana Mitchell can improve this season…

Well she's working on expanding her game. She's working on expanding her face up game in particular and you can see in some of our games last year, she felt a little bit more comfortable coming in and shooting some trail threes for us. She's somebody that consistently we know what we're going to get with Mitchell. She's a nightmare on the boards. She's someone that can play multiple positions for us defensively. We're just trying to get her ready for that next level and we want all of our players to have aspiration to go on and play at that next level. We want to expand her game and in doing so she's going to have to play on the perimeter a little bit more for us and we're excited about the opportunity for Mitchell to come back and be even better than what she was. She's healthy. She looks great on the floor. So she's going to have a standout year again.

 

On the importance of senior leadership…

Well, I think it's huge because it's not just on one senior's shoulders to lead the team. You got LaToya (Ashman), you got Mercedes (Brooks), Mitchell, obviously, who's been a starter for me. Jaelyn Richard-Harris has also been a starter for me. They know this is their last go around so there's a different sense of urgency. Ayana Mitchell yesterday, you know, she, when we ended up huddling, she talked to the team about just enjoying this time together, it's going to go by extremely fast. She talked about this being her last go around and how much fun she wants to have, but also how much she cares about her teammates and so when you got the senior class that really wants to leave their mark, and give back to the next group that's coming behind them, that says something special, that's something special about them.

 

On the importance of the freshmen contributing…  

Well, they're going to be huge. Tiara Young was one of the best players in the country, not only in the state of Louisiana but in the country. She's a six-foot guard that can elevate and get a shot off anytime she wants to. She's explosive with her mid-range game, she's someone that we can post her up, we can play her multiple positions. She can handle the basketball, bring the ball down the floor. She can pretty much play one through four. Then you have Domonique (Davis) who is from Deridder and she is explosive. She is someone that has really surprised me this summer, in the sense of how quickly she is picking up and learning what we're doing from the point position. She's been such a bright spot for our team. She's someone that I can see, you know, when we have teams that are pressing you, she can get the ball down the floor fairly quickly. She's athletic, she's smart, she's a hard worker, but more importantly she knows the game and understands that she's got to be a threat for us. Not a first year but is a junior here, Awa Trasi, who I mentioned is another young lady that can stretch the defense. I like the offensive package that we assembled in this class, but they're also going to add to our defensive execution.

 

On how the offense differs this year from last…

I think what we've got is we've got players who have experience from last year, who understand the simplicity of the game and it can boil down to layups and free throws. If we can get better in those two areas right off the bat, this is a 12 to 14-point swing for our team, every single game. The other part about this team’s offensive execution is that we're playing players with a higher pace. We want pace to our game, we want to extend our running game where we're running on everything made, missed, or turnovers because we're going to have the depth this year to have our transition game pushing back at the opponent. Then we got players that can stretch the defense, we got players that are really committed to knocking down more threes. They're committed, obviously to their passing, which can increase to us being better scorers, all the little basic fundamentals of the game. I think this team is going to surprise a lot of people because offensively I have already seen improvement and we've added staff members that are good in the X's and O's and the execution there. With the work ethic and what we're running, it's going to be a great combination for these young ladies.

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