LSU’s Faustine Aifuwa has heard the talk and seen the accounts.
When conservation shifts to the truly elite centers in the Southeastern Conference and even nationally Aifuwa – a 6-foot-6 senior – would love nothing more than to change the trajectory of her name in much the same manner by becoming one of the school’s best shot blockers.
Aifuwa aspires to put it all together in her final season at LSU and become an all-around player that would give the Tigers a dominant low-post scorer to complement her defensive skills. It’s a development that would have a profound impact on her team’s success and her long-range objectives of becoming a first team All-SEC selection and WNBA draft choice.
“I want to be in that conversation with the best bigs,” said Aifuwa, who will make her 74th and 75th career starts this weekend in Las Vegas when the Tigers open the 2020-21 season against BYU and West Virginia. “I feel like I’m one of the best bigs in the country, but I have to put the work in. I can’t be all the talk and not show it on the court. That’s my mission this season. To really come out with a bang and show that I’m one of the best bigs in the country and put my name in the conversation.”
Aifuwa began that process by eschewing the WNBA Draft, returning to school and finishing her degree in Kinesiology Human Movement.
She’s clearly motivated to enjoy a breakthrough final season that would impact both the success of her team and pave a clear path up the WNBA draft boards.
“I wasn’t sure if I was going to stay or go,” said Aifuwa, a native of Dacula, Ga. “It was kind of back and forth. I realized I still haven’t perfected my game the way I wanted to and there’s another whole level I can tap into. There’s still some unfinished business that I still want to finish out with my team.
“There are things I want to do like go to the (NCAA) tournament which was unfortunately taken away from us because of COVID. We haven’t won the SEC tournament. I want to get those and have those accolades before I leave.”
LSU women’s basketball coach Nikki Fargas is appreciative for the return of Aifuwa – her tallest player and only true center – to anchor the Tigers front court.
“She is going to be one of those players that can dominate the league,” Fargas said. “I like the fact she’s one of the best post players in the country, not only in our league. She’s one of the best rebounding shot blockers, has a nice touch around the basket. We’ve got to get her ready for the next level.”
Aifuwa’s LSU career started with a knee injury that sidelined her as a true freshman in 2016-17. But she discovered as she was rehabbing that sitting, watching and absorbing college basketball without the pressure of immediately playing was beneficial.
She noticed college play was much more physical than high school where she simply towered over most opponents in becoming Dacula (Ga.) High’s ranking No. 1 in career rebounds with 1,203 and in career blocks with 496.
And she also gradually learned during her first couple of years at LSU she needed post moves like a drop step as she began facing opponents taller than her.
But even after starting 73 games as a Tiger, Aifuwa understands she has to add layers to her skill set every off-season.
This past summer and during the preseason, she concentrated on expanding her shooting range to the 3-point line because she missed the only attempt of her college career last year.
Aifuwa started in all 30 of her team’s games last season and experienced career highs in scoring (10.9), rebounding (7.9) and blocked shots (63).
She scored in double figures 18 times, highlighted by a season-high 20 points against Auburn, to go along with five double-doubles. She was voted the team’s co-Most Improved Player and selected to the SEC’s All-Defensive team.
Those numbers pale in comparison to the expectations Aifuwa has established for her final year.
“To average a double-double, I’m not accepting anything less for myself,” said Aifuwa, who’s averaged 8.6 points and 6.5 rebounds and shot nearly 46 percent in her career. “I’m going to still try and make the all-defensive team, try to be the Defensive Player of the Year and become first team (All-SEC).
“I have a lot of goals for myself, but I know that I can do it. I want to be that glue that holds the team together and brings that consistency. That would take us really far this season.”
Aifuwa also has a couple of superlatives in sight that would create a legacy upon the completion of her career.
She already ranks 20th on the school’s career rebounding list (562) with a chance of moving into the Top 10 in which she’s already ranked third in blocked shots (151). She needs 49 more blocks to become only the program’s second player to achieve 200 blocks behind career leader Sylvia Fowles (321).
Also, Aifuwa has a chance to become the first LSU player, men or women, to lead the team in blocked shots for four consecutive seasons.
There’s also the unfinished business of playing in an NCAA tournament game.
She got no playing time as a redshirt freshman in 2017-18 when LSU lost in the first round to Central Michigan. Last season, the 20-10 Tigers were primed to receive a bid when the COVID-19 panic cancelled the NCAA tourney.
“The biggest thing is to improve my game as much as I can and that starts in practice,” Aifuwa said. “I’m trying to give it 110 percent in practice so when it comes to the game it’s just another day and I can showcase what I have.”