An 0-for-3 start to the season didn’t sit too well with LSU center Faustine Aifuwa.
To make matters worse Aifuwa was coming off one of the more disappointing games in her career with two points in the Tigers’ 10-point loss to UCF before the start of final exams last week.
“There were times we had off days where I was still in the gym,” Aifuwa said. “I still couldn’t get over the fact how I didn’t do what I needed to do the first three games. I was definitely ready to play. I definitely went all out and had a little bitter taste in my mouth. I’m glad I got that out.”
With visiting UL-Lafayette breathing down LSU’s neck, having nearly worked its way back from a double-digit deficit in the third quarter the Tigers went almost exclusively in the low post to Aifuwa down the stretch to help her team pull away for a 62-57 victory Monday before 729 fans at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
LSU (1-3) was able to secure its first win on the broad shoulders of the 6-foot-5 Aifuwa, whose turnaround lane jumper with 4:07 left sparked a 9-5 surge that helped the Tigers to a season-high point total.
“It’s good to get a win,” LSU women’s basketball coach Nikki Fargas said. “I thought our team played hard. We wanted to create turnovers (18), we wanted to create the tempo of the game and through our defensive pressure we were able to do that. A lot of credit to ULL, they did a nice job of coming in and being prepared and players making plays for them.”
Aifuwa scored six of her game-high 15 points during that stretch to go with a game-high 12 rebounds for her 11th career double-double. She scored her team’s last three field goals during the last four minutes of play with Khayla Pointer adding a pair of free throws and Domonique Davis adding another.
Davis scored 11 of her career-high 13 points in the second half and was one of four double-digit scorers with LSU along with Pointer and Tiara Young with 10 apiece.
Brandi Williams topped the Ragin’ Cajuns with 16 points, while Ty Doucet added 14 and Skyler Goodwin 12.
LSU shot a season-high 46 percent (27 of 59) and enjoyed a sizable advantage over the Ragin’ Cajuns in points scored in the paint, 42-20, and bench points, 20-4.
“This team needed to see the basketball going in the basket,” Fargas said. “I didn’t think we shot the ball extremely well. We missed a lot of layups which could have separated us a bit more. I can’t say enough about the hustle plays, the excitement that the team brought and how hard they played.”
LSU carried a 47-39 lead into the fourth quarter where the margin remained eight points at 53-45 on Davis’ 3-pointer from the wing with 6:17 left.
That’s where UL-Lafayette (1-2) climbed back into contention. It scored seven unanswered points with consecutive baskets from Kimberly Burton and a 15-footer from Doucet, cutting LSU’s lead to 53-52 with 4:29 remaining, prompting Fargas to call timeout.
“We needed to establish (a) paint presence,” Fargas said. “Who better to do that than Faustine Aifuwa? When she’s locked in, she’s someone who’s very hard to guard. “
Doucet, UL-Lafayette’s tallest player at 6-1, was saddled with four fouls. So LSU came out of the timeout and immediately went inside to Aifuwa for a basket in the lane. She then grabbed two of her seven offensive rebounds and scored on a pair of putbacks for a 61-54 lead with 1:57 remaining.
“I needed to take leadership and kind of put the team on my back,” Aifuwa said. “I know they put me in a great position to score. They all look at me as the leading scorer and I try and do what I needed to come out with a win tonight.”
LSU led by as many as 12 points at 26-14 with 3:02 left in the second quarter when Davis fed Karli Seay for a layup. But after UL-Lafayette immediately called a timeout to halt the Tigers’ momentum, the Ragin’ Cajuns answered with an 8-2 run starting with their first field goal of the quarter with 2:26 before halftime on guard Makayia Hallmon’s drive.
Young provided the Tigers lone basket in that stretch with her second putback which Doucet offset with one of her own with 17 seconds showing, drawing the Cajuns to within 28-22 at halftime.
LSU quickly pushed its lead to double digits at 36-24 early in the second half when Aifuwa found Pointer cutting toward the basket for a layup to complete an 8-0 surge. The Tigers twice led by as many as 13 points, the latter coming on Pointer’s assist to Seay in transition to make it 41-28 LSU and cap a stretch that reached 13-4 over the last five minutes.
“We were all starving for a win,” said Aifuwa, who made 7 of 11 shots and also blocked three shots. “We knew how much we wanted to win this game. I knew how big it was for us. It was a Louisiana team, we kind of have a little rivalry and we had a little chip on our shoulder.”