It’s easy to understand the level of enthusiasm LSU women’s basketball coach NIKKI FARGAS has for her frontcourt this season.
Led 6-foot-5 senior tower of strength FAUSTINE AIFUWA, the Tigers have six players that stand 6-feet or taller. But it’s not necessarily the size of the interior that has Fargas smiling, it’s the versatility and depth that will allow that group to play in a variety of ways and provide matchup difficulties.
“I like the fact that we like to press and get after people,” said Fargas, whose team opens the 2020-21 season Friday and Saturday in Las Vegas against BYU and West Virginia respectively. “I like the fact that we can run a matchup (zone) and we can mix up who we play. We don’t have to be traditional with two post players and three guards. We can go four guards and a big. That’s what our frontcourt gives us. We can still look big in our press and our matchup with our size that’s across the board.”
Ever the defensive-minded coach Fargas relishes the outlook of a frontcourt with Aifuwa being among the team’s focal points on offense and a defensive pillar where her shot-blocking ability and rebounding is of tantamount importance.
She averaged 10.9 points, a career-high 7.9 points and 2.1 blocks, but it’s just the tipping point for an LSU front court. Aifuwa’s help includes with one other returning senior 6-1 AWA TRASI, key junior college signee 6-2 SARAH SHEMATSI, 6-foot junior JALAYSHA THOMAS to go with new faces in 6-2 freshman TREASURE THOMPSON and 6-1 freshman AJAE PETTY.
“I like the fact that we have someone like Faustine that can block shots and disrupt the penetration,” Fargas said. “She and Ajae are probably the two most athletic players that we have that can do that. Treasure brings that as well.
“Awa’s going to bring a physicality to the game. She’s not going to be someone that’s going to give up a lot of space. She’s strong enough to own that space. It’s a good rebounding, offense lineup. We can have those players (Trasi, Thompson, Shematsi) that play multiple positions in the front and backcourt be able to swing.”
Trassi was voted the state’s Newcomer of the Year after starting in 9 of 30 games, averaging 6.5 points and 3.7 rebounds with a high of 22 points against Tennessee. She wound up scoring in double figures in nine games, including six times after moving into the team’s starting lineup when LSU lost leading scorer and rebounder Ayana Mitchell to a season-ending knee injury.
Trassi, who increased her scoring and rebound averages to 10.4 and 4.8 during Mitchell’s absence, was also the Tigers’ leading 3-point threat a year ago (27 of 73) at 37 percent.
“She’s a skilled kid around the basket, has a nice fade-away with a little bit of hang time to it,” Fargas said. “She can play 5-7 feet away from the basket and go to her turnaround. She’s also skilled enough to play on the low block and we can use her in post-ups and duck-ins. She can also rebound outside of her area which will be a key for us. I love the energy she brings not only to the frontcourt, but to our backcourt as well.”
Shematsi is expected to impact both the backcourt as well as the frontcourt and other than center, can play any position on the court, Fargas said.
She’s spent the past two years at South Plains (Texas) College and averaged 12.9 points and 5.2 rebounds during her career.
“She can stretch the defense,” Fargas said of Shematsi, the No. 1 junior college prospect according to Collegiate Girls Basketball Report. “She runs the floor extremely well. She just plays hard. She cuts hard, she posts hard, she runs hard. You won’t see her take really bad shots and she doesn’t turn over the ball a lot.”
Petty and Thompson are a pair of promising newcomers that are expected to contribute immediately, especially in the area of rebounding and defense.
Petty enjoyed a standout season at Baltimore’s Polytechnic Institute where she was voted the nation’s top-rated post player and No. 16 overall player by Next Sports Phenom.
“Her biggest thing is getting reps, getting experience,” Fargas said. “Once that experience comes, I can see her being one of those players that plays at the next level.”
Thompson scored more than 1,000 points, including 13.5 points and 8.1 rebounds as a senior at Bolingbrook High in Joliet, Ill. She was a Top 100 prospect and No. 23 post player by ESPN’s HoopGurlz.com.
“She’s got long arms and can stretch the floor a little bit,” Fargas said. “She’s someone that’s not afraid to mix it up and get a rebound.”
2.1: Blocked shots per game last season by center FAUSTINE AIFUWA, ranking her third in the SEC and earning All-SEC Defensive team honors.
10.4: Points per game in final nine games last season for forward AWA TRASI, who was named 2020 Louisiana Newcomer of the Year by the Louisiana Sports Writers Association.
49: Blocks needed by Aifuwa to become just the second LSU player to reach 200.
NEXT WOMAN UP
Sarah Shematsi is a hidden gem. The No. 1 junior college player last season, the 6-2 forward has extensive international experience.