The cruel fate of Sunday’s 64-63 nail-biting loss to Tennessee is that LSU women’s basketball team arguably played their most complete game to date.
However, without the desired result at the end of a dizzying final minute of play, the Tigers were instead left to wonder what might have been in their tense Southeastern Conference matchup with the Lady Vols at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
“I thought we actually did a really good job,” LSU senior guard Khayla Pointer said. “The last couple of games we had a tendency to come out flat and play catch up in the second half. I thought we were going at it pretty much the whole game with Tennessee.”
LSU, trailing by a point, had to go the length of the floor for an opportunity to win the game in the final seconds.
The Tigers, after four consecutive missed free throws by the Lady Vols, inbounded the ball to Pointer who brought the ball across the midcourt against heavy pressure from Tennessee’s Jordan Horston. Pointer instead found Tiara Young driving, but her shot attempt from the left side in traffic with 2.5 seconds left was off the mark which Horston rebounded.
“We’ve been successful going at the basket,” LSU women’s basketball coach Nikki Fargas said. “We got in a little traffic. She (Young) could have banked that layup right there and that would have been a great opportunity for her to have that confidence too. It doesn’t just come down to the play Tiara tried to make. It comes down to other plays.”
LSU wasn’t able to fully erase a six-point deficit (60-54) with 3:19 remaining.
Pointer, who scored a game-high 25 points, kept the Tigers (4-6, 2-2 in SEC) within a basket on a pair of free throws with 2:20 left and a driving layup with 1:07 to play.
Young drew LSU to within 64-63 on a three-point play with 28.3 seconds showing when Tennessee (8-1, 2-0 in SEC) missed four straight free throws from Jordan Walker and Kasiyahna Kushkituah, the latter coming with 20.5 seconds to go.
There was a mad scramble on the floor following the second miss by Kushkituah, resulting in a jump ball and possession to Tennessee with 17.4 seconds left. The Lady Vols had a wide-open look on the inbounds play, but Rae Burrell missed a layup which LSU’s Karli Seay rebounded, leading to a timeout with 13.8 seconds.
Because Seay took a couple of dribbles before calling timeout, LSU was forced to go the length of the floor instead of being able to advance to ball to midcourt.
“I’m a little upset about the last play, we obviously didn’t get the shot that we wanted,” said Pointer, who scored eight points in the final quarter. “When we called timeout we set up a play at half court. Horston was guarding me pretty tough. Tiara went in and tried to get best look, try to draw a foul but it just didn’t go our way and Tennessee came up with the victory.”
Pointer’s co-season-high point total came on 10 of 20 shooting but the senior was just 4 of 10 from the free throw line to go along with five assists.
Young scored eight of her 11 points in the first half while Faustine Aifuwa was limited to eight points in 21 minutes after spending a great deal of the game in foul trouble before fouling out with 20.5 seconds left.
Seay scored six points, grabbed six rebounds and had six of her team’s 14 steals.
“Before the game our staff talked if we could come out with a one-point win, we would walk away happy,” Tennessee coach Kellie Harper said. “It’s just that tough in the SEC to get these wins.”
LSU compensated for a minus-14 rebounding deficiency, because of the prolonged amount of time Aifuwa spent in foul trouble, with a defense that forced 19 turnovers that helped produce a 26-10 advantage in points scored off turnovers.
Guard Rae Burrell, who led Tennessee with 18 points, scored 10 of her team’s 14 points in the third quarter and gave the Lady Vols a 47-46 lead going into the final quarter with a 3-pointer from the corner with 10.2 seconds to go.
The game was tied twice, the second time at 54-54 at the 5:41 mark on Seay’s baseline jumper, when the Lady Vols answered with their 6-0 run – their biggest of the game – which Burrell capped with two free throws.
Despite having to play without Aifuwa for 15 minutes of the first half, LSU found itself leading Tennessee by as many as six points (29-23) before three lead changes in the last 1:24 of the first half resulted in the Lady Vols taking a 33-32 lead into the locker room.
LSU enjoyed one of its most efficient first quarters of the season, shooting 62 percent with the Tigers taking a 13-10 lead at the 4:27 mark on a banked-in 3-pointer from Pointer from the wing just as Tennessee went to a 2-3 zone.
Once Aifuwa sat down with her second foul at the 5:11 mark the Tigers were forced to play with a decidedly smaller lineup against the Lady Vols who started a lineup with no one shorter than 6-foot-1.
Young continued her solid play in a reserve role with eight points, scoring on a put back to cap a 7-0 run for a 15-10 lead. It was also her coast-to-coast driving layup that beat the buzzer for a 19-16 lead.
Young also fed Rakell Spencer for a basket with 5:27 showing in the second for a 29-23 lead when Tennessee closed with a 10-3 run and took a 33-32 halftime lead on Rennia Davis’ put back.
“We went small ball which we had to in the first half when we lost Faustine Aifuwa to foul trouble,” Fargas said “I can’t say enough about how hard my team played and even thought size-wise we were the smaller team, I felt like our heart played bigger than what our actual physical size looked like.”