Adversity hit LSU’s women’s basketball team in waves.
It learned Saturday night it would face Ole Miss in Sunday afternoon’s SEC matchup without head coach Nikki Fargas, who was sidelined because of COVID-19 contact tracing.
Then the Tigers, with assistant coach Charlene Thomas-Swinson in command, trailed almost the entire game and stared at a seven-point deficit with 2:14 left in regulation before forcing an overtime they dominated for a dramatic 75-66 victory at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
LSU’s overtime burst seemed anti-climatic compared to its 10-3 run at the end of regulation, highlighted by senior Karly Seay’s miraculous four-point play.
Coming out of an LSU timeout with 23 seconds left and Ole Miss leading 62-59, Thomas-Swinson said her team was looking for a quick two-point basket.
But the ball ended up in the hands of Seay, who had made just 2 of 14 3-point attempts on the season including two misses on the day.
Her third attempt was a high arching 3 from the deep right wing in front of the LSU bench that banked in with 11.8 seconds left. Better yet, she was fouled by Ole Miss’ Donetta Johnson and then converted a free throw for a four-point play and a 63-62 Tigers’ lead.
“We work on it at practice,” Seay said. “We come in and shoot shots you may expect us to make. That one happened to go in. God was on my side with that one. I’m happy it happened to fall.”
Ole Miss nearly didn’t advance to overtime. After LSU’s Awa Trasi fouled the Rebels’ Mimi Reid with 1.3 seconds left, Reid missed her first of two free throws and then hit the second for a 63-63 tie.
The Rebels appeared frazzled in the extra period.
Maybe it was from the LSU defensive pressure that resulted Ole Miss missing 7 of 8 field goal attempts and committing three turnovers in the extra period. Or maybe it was a hangover from Seay’s miracle 4-point play.
“I’ve had several moments, even in the WNBA (as an assistant with the Orlando Miracle), where you’ve got players that can step up and knock down big shots,” Thomas-Swinson said. “Karli’s shot is going to go down in history.”
Sunday’s win marked the first time Fargas missed a game in 10 seasons and 298 games at LSU. Thomas-Swinson, a sixth-year assistant, was the obvious one-day replacement. She twice previously served for 10 years as head coach at St. John’s and more recently Tulsa from 2005-2011.
“It was really different not having her (Fargas) there controlling the game for us,” LSU senior point guard Khayla Pointer, who is also Fargas’ niece. “We talked to her yesterday (Saturday) at practice and before the game. This was adversity for us. We’ve prepared enough to know what she’s told us behind the scenes and on the court to get that win for her.”
Pointer matched her season of 25 points, including nine during LSU’s crucial fourth-quarter rally. Faustine Aifuwa scored 17 and tied her career-high with 16 rebounds, while Seay and Awa Trasi added 13 apiece.
“I can’t say enough about this group,” said Thomas-Swinson, who was assisted by Aaron Kallhoff and Cherie Cordoba. “We preach family and then be able to pull together through hard times, this is definitely one of those moments where we legitimately had to pull together. Knowing Coach Fargas wouldn’t be able to be able to coach this game and still be able to do what we do.”
The Tigers (8-7, 6-3 in SEC) trailed the Rebels (7-7, 1-7) by as many as 14 points at 28-14 in the second quarter, and cut that lead in half trailing 35-28 at the half.
Ole Miss fended off several runs and gained a 51-43 lead at the end of the third quarter on Johnson’s drive at the buzzer. The Rebels extended their lead to 56-46 with 7:52 left in the final period on Reid’s 3-pointer from the wing.
Pointer returned from foul trouble with 5:19 left in regulation. She scored six straight points, including a three-point play with 29 seconds to go that put the Tigers trailing 60-59.
That set the stage for Seay’s 4-point prayer and LSU was confident heading into overtime because it beat Ole Miss 77-69 in overtime Jan. 4 in Oxford.
“The kids were talking in the timeout that we had been here and done that,” Thomas-Swinson said. “We knew we had gotten off to a slow start in the first half and they wanted to finish them off.”
LSU gained the early momentum in overtime with consecutive baskets from Trasi and Pointer for a 67-63 which at that juncture represented the Tigers’ biggest lead of the game.
Tiara Young made it a 6-0 run when she followed up her own miss for her only field goal when LSU needed it most to make it 69-63 with 2:20 showing.
The Tigers didn’t allow the Rebels to get any closer than four points (69-65) and wound up stretching out their lead to 72-65 with 51.9 seconds left on a put back from Aifuwa and a free throw from Jailyn Cherry.
Seay, one of six players to score in OT, sealed her team’s 12-3 run in overtime with 3 of 4 free throw shooting in the last 29.9 seconds left. LSU converted a season-high 26 of 41 free throws for 63.4 percent.
“I’m proud of my team for not backing down, not giving up,” Pointer said. “I’m proud of the staff for stepping up. I’m really glad we pulled that out.”