LSU women head to Texas A&M on a wing and a 4-point prayer

LSU freshman Karli Seay lofted a 3-pointer over Ole Miss’ Donetta Johnson that banked in with 11.8 seconds left in regulation of the Tigers’ eventual 75-66 win in overtime in the PMAC on Sunday. Johnson fouled Seay on the play and Seay made the free throw to complete a four-point play for 63-62 lead. Photo by Derek Dunbar

Her team trailing Ole Miss by three points and the clock winding down, LSU’s Karli Seay reacted to an opportunity.

But with a four-point play by banking in a 3-pointer and hitting a free throw for a one-point lead with 11.3 seconds left to play?

The response from Seay’s heroic game-saving play that eventually sent the game to overtime where LSU won 75-66 on Sunday in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center has been somewhat overwhelming.

But it hasn’t changed the senior guard’s perspective on her role she plays for this year’s team.

“Defense, that’s my thing,” Seay acknowledged as her primary focus. “When I’m consistent with that, then that’s when things start to flow offensively for me.”

That the Tigers used Seay’s clutch shot to springboard to a 12-3 rout of the Rebels in the extra period to close out a nine-point win was a tribute to a team galvanized by the absence of head coach Nikki Fargas and having to rally for an SEC victory.

The Tigers (8-7, 6-3 in the SEC) also realized the lift provided by Seay, who matched her season-high with 13 points but forever will be known for “the shot” and the part it played in the come-from-behind victory going into Thursday’s road game at Texas A&M (16-1, 7-1) at 8 p.m.

“She looked like she was in rhythm,” said Fargas, who for the first time in 10 seasons at LSU missed her first game in 298 contests because of COVID-19 contact tracing and watched the game from home. “I was more excited about the emotions and response from her and her teammates. There’s these moments that sports give you. That’s going to be one of those moments.”

Seay said her career highlight may not have occurred had Fargas been courtside.

“I’m pretty sure coach Nikki’s back home (and) was like, ‘What is she doing. Why is she taking this shot?’” Seay said. “I’m pretty sure I won’t risk doing that again, especially like that. I was happy what I did Sunday. I probably won’t ever have to be in that situation again to take that, let alone get fouled and make it like that.”

Seay played in a career-high 44 minutes, making 4 of 10 shots and cemented the win with 3 of 4 free-throw shooting in the final 29.9 seconds.

She admitted to being unprepared for the adulation she received from as far as her hometown of Flossmoor, Ill. in the form of congratulatory text messages and social media kudos.

“It’s been pretty cool to get the praise for it,” she said. “I didn’t expect it to blow up as much as it has.”

Fargas, who will be replaced on the bench again by Charlene Thomas-Swinson for the A&M game, said Seay’s always had a flair for the dramatic and watching her play is almost akin to an actor carrying out a role with the idea of achieving greatness.

“I like that she’s coming into her own, understanding her own worth to this team and playing her role like she’s getting ready to win an Oscar,” she said.

Instead of being one of LSU’s leading ladies off the bench, Seay has become a starter. She moved into the Tigers starting five seven games ago and exceeded her contributions from the previous two seasons.

Seay, who spent her freshman season at Western Nebraska Community College, had a combined 11 starts at LSU, averaging 12 minutes and 2.4 points over her first two seasons.

Because of restrictions brought on by the coronavirus pandemic Seay didn’t have any access to gymnasiums or workout facilities in her Chicago-area hometown during the summer. It left her scrambling to work out on her own and find time to polish aspects of her game away from the court.

Some of the same limitations existed at LSU when Seay reported back to campus for voluntary workouts in the summer. There were strict guidelines in place ranging from having to work out in small groups to entering and exiting the practice facility through the same door to being assigned one basketball and an area of the court with a basket to shoot.

All of this appeared to be an impediment to a player looking to make gains in her game for the upcoming season. But Seay and her teammates were still grateful for the opportunity to practice and play a season after having the plug pulled on last year’s NCAA tournament in mid-March.

“When they gave us the opportunity to come in or come in late-night, I would take the opportunity as much as I could,” she said. “We weren’t allowed to be in the gym as much as we used to be.”

For Seay, the result has been an improved play with a greater impact on her team’s success.

This season, Seay has doubled her average playing time to 27 minutes from a year ago. She has had jumps in field goal percentage (37.9 to 40 percent) and free throw percentage (50.0 to 72.7), rebounding (0.8 to 2.1), scoring (2.1 to 6.1) and steals where she’s registered a career-best 29 (second on the team behind Khayla Pointer).

“Karli’s wrecks havoc on the defensive side of the ball,” Fargas said. “She’s one of our best transition players. She’s also giving us an outside threat.”

She’s also good for an occasional 3-pointer where after making just 2 of 15 her first two seasons, Seay ended a 0 for 13 stretch this season by making her next two straight in games against Missouri and Georgia.

Seay took that to another level where after missing her first two 3-point attempts in the Ole Miss game. In her moment of glory, she gathered in a pass from Jailyn Cherry on the right wing and arched a 3-point attempt high over the outstretched hand of defender Donetta Johnson.

After getting fouled by Johnson after the successful shot, she was mobbed by her teammates in front of the team’s bench. Then, she calmly walked to the free throw line and drained the subsequent go-ahead attempt that Ole Miss matched with one second left to send the game into overtime.

“Everybody was out there and that’s what sports is about,” Fargas said. “Could that have been Top 10 SportsCenter? Possibly?

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