Once again LSU displayed its flair for the dramatic and survived a favorable outcome.
The Tigers, who led by as many as 16 points 90 seconds into the fourth quarter, had to fend off a determined effort down the stretch from Missouri for a 66-64 SEC road victory Monday night.
LSU’s lead evaporated to one point on three different occasions in the final two minutes of play, but the Tigers got clutch free throw shooting from Khayla Pointer and Tiara Young to clinch the team’s second straight league victory.
“Usually that stat line doesn’t play in our favor,” LSU coach Nikki Fargas said of her team’s 18 of 29 effort from the free throw line. “We had several players get to the free throw line. They didn’t make all of them, but to have them get to the line showed that we were being aggressive and doing something other than shooting a jumper. They started fouling us and we needed to make those free throws and we were able to make enough to come away with the win.”
LSU had to hold off then seventh-ranked Texas A&M in Sunday’s 65-61 overtime victory after building a 17-point lead in the second quarter.
“There were times in the game where we started turning the ball over on offense and to have 20 turnovers is the big stat that jumps out me,” Fargas said. “The fact that we weren’t taking care of the basketball.”
Pointer, who has averaged 21 points in her last four games, scored 16 of her game-high 22 points in the second half and also dished out three assists. Young contributed 16 points and four rebounds while Faustine Aifuwa added 12 points and eight rebounds and Awa Trassi added nine points.
LSU (6-6, 4-2 in SEC) moved into a tie for fifth place in the SEC with league-leading and No. 4 ranked South Carolina coming to town Sunday for a noon tipoff at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
Missouri (5-4, 1-3 in SEC) enjoyed its most productive quarter, making 8 of 11 shots in the fourth period to fuel its 19-4 run that nearly erased all of LSU’s big lead. The home-standing Tigers, which forced four LSU turnovers in the final quarter, got within 58-57 with 2:38 left when Pointer answered with a driving layup that ended a five-minute stretch without a field goal.
She also added a pair of free throws and Young added a free throw for a 65-61 lead with 14.1 seconds to go when a 3-pointer from Missouri’s Aijha Blackwell cut it to 65-64 with 3.1 seconds left.
Young made 1 of 2 free throws when Missouri was hit with a technical for excessive timeouts and with the ball in front of their own bench, Karli Seay inbounded into her team’s backcourt which Jailin Cherry touched, allowing the clock to run out.
“We’re getting better,” said Fargas, whose team led for all but 27 seconds of the game. “We’re getting more reps. We’re getting the competitive spirit of this league. It will test you. We’re a team that’s finding their way.”
LSU’s defense held Missouri, led by Blackwell with 14, to nearly 16 points under its season point total. They also limit the homestanding Tigers to their third-lowest point total of the year and the SEC’s third-best 3-point shooting team was 5 of 17 for 29.4 percent.
LSU built on its 27-20 lead by outscoring Missouri 24-17 in the third quarter, taking a 52-37 advantage into the final quarter of play after Seay’s first 3-pointer in conference play. Pointer scored nine of her team’s points in the quarter, including a stretch with seven straight points for her team that made it 45-34 with 2:57 showing. Trassi added a three-point lead and Seay’s 3-pointer capped the Tigers’ 15-point cushion.
Turns out they needed every point they could get, even after extending that lead to 54-38 on a basket from Aifuwa and again at 56-42 when Young scored with 7:04 left.
“We turned them over 20 times, usually that’s the advantage we have,” Fargas said. “We were able to hold onto the lead and then go down the stretch and make plays that we needed to make and be able to come away with a win.”
LSU gained early separation when four different players contributed to a 9-0 run that Pointer capped with the first of her three 3-pointers for a 9-2 lead at the 3:36 mark of the first quarter.
Young made four of her first five shots and began the second quarter with consecutive field goals to a 17-8 advantage at the 7:33 mark.
LSU’s defense continued making life difficult for Missouri which made just five of its first 20 shots and suffered 11 turnovers 15 minutes into the game.
By that time LSU opened a 23-11 lead on back-to-back baskets from Aifuwa scored on back-to-back field goals, the second coming on a fast break layup on an assist from Young. They were able to maintain a lead between 9 to 11 points when Missouri closed the half with 4 of 6 shooting and trailed 27-20 at halftime.
“When you’re playing in this league nobody is safe,” Fargas said. “This league is about players that compete and fight, who don’t take possessions off even in the midst of adversity.”