On a rainy Monday night in the PMAC, the LSU women’s basketball team proved that there is, in fact, life after the loss of star senior forward Ayana Mitchell. In their first game since she was injured on February 2, the Lady Tigers beat Missouri 66-58 as they improved to 17-5 overall and 7-3 in SEC play.
“We all understand we have to step up. We all understand we have to do a little bit more, whether that is getting two more rebounds or assists or whatever the case may be," said junior guard Khayla Pointer when asked about the team’s mentality on the floor without Mitchell.
One member of the team that stepped up was junior center Faustine Aifuwa who finished with 19 points and 16 rebounds. Along with Aifuwa, three more Tigers scored in double figures to help soften the blow of losing Mitchell. Junior forward Awa Trasi added 11 points, senior guard Jaelyn Richard-Harris scored 14 and Pointer finished with 12 points along with a team high six assists.
The team sees the injury not as a setback, but rather an opportunity to come together and improve as the regular season ends and postseason play begins.
“Ayana going down is something we have used to motivate us. It is a step forward, not a setback," said Richard-Harris.
In Mitchell’s absence, the Lady Tigers have relied on familiar faces, such as Pointer who played all 40 minutes on Monday night, but the team is also turning to some lesser known faces to fill the void.
Freshman and junior guards Tiara Young and Rakell Spencer have been asked to step into the spotlight and play more minutes as a result of the injury. Against Missouri, they combined for six points and six rebounds as well as one assist. Their play off the bench will be crucial to the success of the team down the stretch.
“You have to make the game simple for them," said head coach Nikki Fargas when asked about inexperienced players like Young and Spencer seeing more minutes. "You don’t want them to overthink things. Have them do what they do best."
Fargas also praised the two for their play versus Missouri.
“Tiara showed today that she can guard one of the best offensive players in our league and she didn’t back down. Rakell has a great competitive spirit with which she welcomes challenge. I liked seeing two of my bigger guards take on that responsibility."
LSU’s next game will be on Thursday versus No. 25 Tennessee in the PMAC at 6:30 pm. In their previous meeting earlier this season, the Volunteers edged out the Tigers 63-58 in Knoxville.