In what could have potentially been her final game in an LSU uniform on Friday, senior point guard Khayla Pointer didn’t mince words.
Pointer didn’t like what she witnessed as top-seeded and No. 2 ranked Texas A&M steadily pulled away to eliminate the eighth-seeded Tigers 77-58 in the quarterfinal round of the Southeastern Conference tournament in Greenville, S.C.
“Today, it was almost like we didn’t come to play, honestly,” said Pointer, who led all scorers with 26 points to go along with four assists and four steals. “It seems like we gave up in the third quarter, some of us were already checked out. You can’t be that way. Texas A&M’s a great team. They just won the SEC regular season championship. We know them very well, but we didn’t come to play.”
Texas A&M (23-1) relied on a balanced scoring attack with five players reaching double figures led by the 16 points of guard Kayla Wells. The Aggies also took advantage of early foul trouble against LSU’s top two post players – Faustine Aifuwa and Awa Trasi – and punished the Tigers (9-13) by a gigantic 40-14 advantage in points scored in the paint.
The Aggies, whose only loss this season was a 65-61 overtime decision at LSU, resembled a team in the conversation for the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. They shot 50% (28 of 56) from the floor, held a 44-34 rebounding edge and in the second half outscored the Tigers 45-32.
“To give up this many points our defense really failed us even though our offensive execution in the third quarter is what really hurt us,” said LSU coach Nikki Fargas, whose team allowed a season-high point total.
LSU played its second game in 24 hours after its most complete victory of the season in Thursday’s 71-62 second-round win over Mississippi State. The Tigers’ bench turned in a season-high 34 points where guard Ryann Payne gave her team a big lift with a season-high 17 points.
But apparently there was nothing left in the tank to battle the Aggies.
“Give LSU a lot of credit,” Texas A&M coach Gary Blair said. “It’s hard coming back and playing 24 hours later. But our kids played well, and again played with that savvy you have to have in the second and the third quarter, which we did.”
Despite shooting 27.8% (10 of 26), LSU trailed 32-26 at halftime and cut into that deficit on a 3-pointer from Payne at the 4:37 mark of the third quarter to make it 41-36.
That turned out to be LSU’s last field goal of the period, making only 2 of 12 shots, to fall into a double-digit hole (49-38 with 1:48 left) they weren’t able to recover from. The Tigers wound up shooting 28.1% (18 of 64) for the game.
“The scoreboard was what it was, (but) you never show that you’re defeated,” Pointer said. “You never give up and I got on my team about that. I said, `It’s the third quarter and we may be down 14-16 points and we already look like the game is already over.’
“You never know what can happen in six to eight minutes. But when you’re already telling yourself you lost the game, then that’s the first problem. When you don’t believe you can come back and trim a deficit, that was the problem for me. I was very disappointed in my team for their lack of fight when adversity hit and for us to not go down swinging.”
LSU’s shooting woes continued in the final quarter where the Tigers encountered their third long scoring drought in the game of four minutes or more. Senior Rakell Spencer, a Texas A&M transfer, stopped such a stretch with a 3-pointer with just over four minutes to play for a career-high 10 points, but the Aggies were still in control at 67-48 with 4:10 left to play.
“Pointer needed some more help,” Fargas said. “This was Rakell Spencer’s best shooting night and did everything she could. We just couldn’t get anybody else going and that hurt us because we needed other guards to step up. Their post play outplayed ours, but you have them outplaying both (of ours).”
Pointer nearly single-handedly kept LSU in contention in the first half, scoring 13 of her team’s 26 points. Although she encountered a difficult game shooting wise at 6 of 21, she was 4 of 7 from 3-point land and was only one of two players (Aifuwa was the other) to get to the free throw line with 10 of 12 shooting.
She now ranks 21st in program’s history with 1,306 points and fifth in assists with 431 but remains uncertain whether she’ll add to those totals and take advantage of an additional year of eligibility from the NCAA or enter WNBA draft.
“I can take some time and talk to my family and see what I want to do,” she said.