Instead of accepting an invitation from USA Basketball for a tryout LSU sophomore forward Sa’Myah Smith remained in Baton Rouge.
The 6-foot-4 Smith believed it was in her best interest to remain steadfast in the weight room, and improve her game enough throughout the summer, to compete for the role of power forward left behind by LaDazhia Williams from last year’s national championship team.
LSU’s first exhibition last week was an example of Smith’s progress. The native of DeSoto, Texas produced her team’s lone double-double with 16 points and 12 rebounds in 20 minutes of playing time in a 99-26 triumph over Division III East Texas Baptist.
The top-ranked Tigers will host their second exhibition Wednesday at 7 p.m. against NAIA member Loyola of New Orleans. The Wolfpack are 1-0 but lost at Tulane, 72-38, in an exhibition contest.
“Sa’Myah stayed here all summer. It was important,” LSU women’s coach Kim Mulkey said. “She knows LaDazhia’s gone. She knows we need her to grow up quickly.”
Mulkey opted to start a group of five newcomers in last week’s exhibition opener last week. Transfer signees Hailey Van Lith of Louisville and Aneesah Morrow of DePaul joined freshman Mikaylah Williams, Janae Kent and Aalyah Del Rosario with all but Van Lith reaching double figures in scoring.
“I’m excited about the different lineups, playing hard with the different lineups on the floor,” said Morrow, who scored 10 points and had nine rebounds. “Just seeing how we all play and who plays the best together.”
Smith was among the second wave of players Mulkey brought in to start the second quarter before mixing and matching combinations in the third and fourth quarters.
LSU scored the first 12 points of the game, led 26-5 after the first quarter and 51-9 at halftime on the strength of a 20-0 run. The Tigers extended that run to 26-0 on three straight points from Angel Reese.
Sophomore guard Flau’jae Johnson scored 14 of her game-high 18 points in the second quarter with Reese scoring 17 points, grabbing 7 rebounds, three steals and three assists.
Mulkey took exception with her team’s second-half defensive play.
“We absolutely had no discipline defensively in the second half,” she said. “That’s the thing I was more disappointed in. Two of them were switching over here, this one was reaching over here. We’ve got to clean it up. We’ve got to clean up the defensive end of the floor and we’ve all got to do it right. We’ve all got to be on the same page and it’s our job to do it in practice.”
Smith was a member of last year’s All-Freshman team in the Southeastern Conference, playing in all 36 of LSU’s games with two starts, and was the team’s first forward off the bench. She averaged 4.6 points and 4.0 rebounds and was second to Reese in blocked shots with 38.
Smith played key minutes during LSU’s run to the national championship with six points and five rebounds in 18 minutes of a 54-42 Elite Eight victory over Miami to reach the Final Four.
When foul trouble plagued the Tigers in the first half of a 102-85 victory over Iowa in the national title game, Smith scored a basket and grabbed two rebounds in nine minutes.
In her team’s exhibition victory, Smith converted an offensive rebound into a three-point play less than a minute into the fourth quarter. That sparked an explosion with 14 of her team’s 29 points and 12 of her team’s final points in the last three minutes of play.
“She got valuable minutes in her freshman year,” Mulkey said. “She was on the all-freshman team in the SEC. She knows she’s got to get stronger. She’s never going to get thicker. That’s just not her body, but she wants to do good. She wants to get more minutes and she’s a joy to coach.”