When LSU returns to the court Monday at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center for a 5 p.m. tipoff against UL-Lafayette, the Tigers starting lineup will sport a different look.
After an 0-3 start, coupled with the conclusion of final exams, LSU women’s basketball coach Nikki Fargas indicated that change was in order. She plans to insert junior college signee Sarah Shematsi into the starting five in hopes of providing a spark for a team that’s struggled out of the gate offensively.
“Sarah Shematsi has worked hard and deserves to be in the starting lineup,” Fargas said. “She’s someone that will give us not only the offense that we do desperately need, but we can also generate offense through our defense in being able to press more.”
LSU is averaging 47 points per game (currently 299th out of 308 Division 1 teams) on 30.7 percent shooting (291st nationally) from the field and 31.1 percent from 3-point range.
One of the reoccurring themes of the young season has been the Tigers’ offense enduring long stretches of being unable to score, leading to huge deficits from which they’ve been unable to recover.
The latest example came in LSU’s last game before final exams, a 58-48 home to Central Florida on Dec. 4. The Tigers missed all seven of their first-quarter field goal attempts and trailed at one point 20-3 before looking up at a 30-12 halftime disadvantage.
“We’ve had some great looks,” Fargas said. “We’ve been to the free throw line enough times. We’ve had offensive rebounds. We’ve had offensive opportunities. We’ve just spent a lot more time this past week on execution. I believe they’re pressing a little bit more. I think they’re stressing more about it because the ball hasn’t been shot and they’re putting in the work.”
LSU’s defense, which averages 8.3 steals, has forced an average of 21 turnovers (42nd nationally) but that hasn’t translated on the scoreboard. Her team has also encountered difficulty from the free throw line where they’re shooting just 54 percent (291st nationally).
The 6-foot-2 Shematsi, one of the nation’s top junior college players at South Plains (Texas) College, has been one of LSU’s more consistent players. She emerged as her team’s leading scorer with 15 points – all on 3-pointers – in the loss to UCF.
Shematsi is averaging eight points in 16.7 minutes per game and has shot the ball at a 47.1 clip from the field and 50.0 percent from 3-point land (4th in the SEC). She’ll team with senior point guard Khayla Pointer, who tops the Tigers with a 10.3 average.
“Sarah is someone who plays extremely hard and brings a lot of energy to us at the very beginning of the game,” Fargas said. “She brings versatility. Has shown that she deserves to be in the starting lineup.”
Fargas conducted morning practices with her team during exam week, took two days off before resuming practice Saturday in preparations for Monday’s game which will be broadcast by the SEC Network.
However, the Tigers’ opponent changed Friday when scheduled opponent Texas Southern was unable to play because of COVID-19 related issues. It opened the door for Louisiana-Lafayette (1-1) which hasn’t beaten LSU in 24 previous meetings.
The Ragin’ Cajuns have split games this season against North Texas (83-74 loss) and McNeese State (80-48 win).
“I told them the game is going to reward you through your hard work,” Fargas said. “You’ve just got to stay the course and that’s what we’ve been preaching, and I believe it’s going to turn around for them immediately.”