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Women's Hoops Opens Season vs. Sam Houston State

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Nikki Fargas shot a three-pointer or two in her time as a player.

Entering her eighth season at LSU, she’s looking to pass that affinity for the long jumper down to her team – but everything starts down low for the 2018-19 Lady Tigers.

The foremost of the three returning starters and eight returning letterwinners back from an NCAA Tournament squad that finished 11-5 in the SEC can be found on the block.

Ayana Mitchell and Faustine Aifuwa are the one-two punch inside Fargas is counting on to lead LSU back to postseason play.

“They're going to be dominant players in the game for us,” Fargas says. “Those two together are a force to be reckoned with. They have the size. They have the athleticism and they have the quickness and the skills.”

Mitchell, a preseason second team All-SEC selection, led LSU in rebounding last season, averaging 8.2 per game, and is the team’s returning leading scorer (11.0 points per game). Her focus heading into her junior season is “being able to handle it a little bit better and pass it a little bit better and being able to shoot it a lot better.”

“We're going to expect a lot from her, not only from her scoring but her rebounding, her ability to just really be that emotional player for us,” Fargas says. “And when she's like that, the other players feed off of her.”

Aifuwa, meanwhile, led the team with 44 blocks and grabbed 5.0 rebounds in 18.0 minutes per game last season. She enters her second year with the expectation to carry a larger load.

“I’ve seen a lot of improvement,” Aifuwa says of her game. “There’s times where I’ve gotten the ball in the high post and I’ll be able to shoot it or make my own shot by driving to the goal. That’s something that I didn’t do last year.”

Those bigs will be supported by a backcourt looking to make its mark from beyond the arc this season. Jaelyn Richard-Harris, who started 25 games last season, and Khalya Pointer will share ball-handling duties in the backcourt. Senior Shanice Norton also offers a veteran presence on the perimeter.

“Your point guard is like your quarterback to your team,” Fargas says. “So to have two of them returning from last year's team, they understand what I want from them. They understand the system.”

On the wings, junior college transfer Mercedes Brooks offers length and athleticism, as do Jailin Cherry and Texas A&M transfer Rakell Spencer. Brooks can play the 3 or 4 spot, and she offers Fargas value as a vocal leader, too.

“Mercedes is one of the most vocal kids that I've coached in a long time,” Fargas says. “She talks constantly. And to have her on the roster has been a bright spot.”

Stylistically, the Lady Tigers will retain their high-pressure defense that forced 519 turnovers of opponents last season, but the offense will feature more three-point shooting. That will come from both the perimeter – Richard-Harris, Pointer, and JUCO transfer LaToya Ashman can all knock down the deep ball – and from inside, where Mitchell and former McDonald’s All-American Raven Farley both offer pick-and-pop ability.

“We are shooting more 3s in practice. We've got more 3-point shooters,” Fargas says. “So that helps. But I also like the fact that we're able to get to the lane and play some inside and play inside outside type basketball.”

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