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GAMEDAY: UK Hoops Travel to Face LSU Tigers

Kentucky basketball will look to go 2-0 this weekend in road SEC environments.

Following an impressive win from the men’s team down in Fayetteville against the Arkansas Razorbacks, the ladies will look to head back to Lexington with a similar result. The No. 11 Kentucky Wildcats (15-2) women’s basketball team is set to take on the LSU Tigers (13-4) down in Baton Rouge later today at 2 p.m. on the SEC Network.

This will be the fifth road trip over the team’s previous seven games and the final outing before an eight-day break between games. The ‘Cats are coming off an impressive, 22-point win over No. 12 Texas A&M on Thursday night inside Memorial Coliseum and will have their hands full once again as they face a solid LSU squad. Kentucky is hoping to extend its winning streak to five games.

Without any further ado, let’s dive into what to expect from the Tigers, who are coming off a narrow four-point defeat at the hands of No. 10 Mississippi State just three days ago.

PPG: 66.2
Opponents PPG: 56.9

FG%: 44.7
3PT%: 24.1 (340 out of 351 possible Division I teams)
FT%: 56.5 (345 out of 351 possible Division I teams)
RPG: 39.2 (+6.4 margin)
APG: 13.5
Turnovers per game: 14.7

At the helm for LSU is head coach Nikki Fargas, who is currently in her ninth season with the Tigers and her 12th year overall as a head coach. During her tenure in Louisiana, Fargas has led LSU to respectable levels of success. Only once has she finished a season with the Tigers sporting an under-.500 record and her teams have made the NCAA Tournament six different times. Fargas coached LSU to back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances in 2012-2014. While they missed the tournament last season, posting a 16-13 record and going 7-9 in SEC play, LSU has proven to be a dangerous threat to the conference’s four top teams this year.

LSU also beat Texas A&M, but under slightly different circumstances than Kentucky. Aggie star Chennedy Carter – who was injured for the game agaisnt UK – had her team up on the Tigers by five at halftime of that game before she suffered the aforementioned ankle injury. Carter did not play in the second half and LSU was able to flip the script and steal a five-point win. Before that necessary win, LSU had lost an embarrassing game to 4-14 Missouri.

Outside of that surprising loss to Mizzou, LSU boasts a solid resume. They hold losses to Florida State (currently ranked No. 13) and Oklahoma (10-6) while showcasing impressive wins over Rutgers (15-2) and FGCU (15-2).

The Tigers are fueled by a pair of dangerous scorers: 5-foot-7 junior Khayla Pointer and 6-foot-0 senior Ayana Mitchell.

Pointer is the team’s point guard, leading them in overall assists (77) and steals (42) while pouring in a team-high of 14.8 points per game on a shooting clip of 42.6 percent. She’s attempted over 60 more shots than the second-highest Tiger and is a dangerous player when attacking the rim. Her 98 attempted free-throws (on a 73.5 percent clip) this season are more than any Wildcat.

As for Mitchell, she’s another dominant low-post player that will give the Kentucky frontline some issues in the paint. She damn near averages a double-double, recording 14.4 points and 9.2 boards per outing while shooting a preposterous 72.1 percent from the field – easily the best mark in all of Division I. In fact, the NCAA record for highest shooting percentage in one season is 72.4 percent. At one point this season, she had hit 21 straight shots over the course of three games. Mitchell has a legitimate chance to break that NCAA record, depending on how she plays against the thin frontline for Kentucky.

*Side note: I wouldn’t expect KeKe McKinney to play for Kentucky today considering what head coach Matthew Mitchell said on Thursday. Which means we will likely see more minutes for Nae Nae Cole, especially as a defender on Ayana Mitchell. If you’re looking for an important, underrated matchup, this is the one. We might even see Rhyne Howard take the task of guarding Mitchell*

With Pointer and Mitchell accounting for the majority of the scoring, its 6-foot-5 center Faustine Aifuwa that completes LSU’s “Big 3”.

Aifuwa leads LSU in blocks with 23 on the season and is second on the team in rebounds at over seven per game. Like Mitchell, Aifuwa is a premier presence in the post on offense, making 51.7 percent of her shots this season as the team’s second-leading shot taker.

Rounding out the starting lineup for LSU will likely be the guard play of 5-foot-2 Jaelyn Richard-Harris and 5-foot-8 Tiara Young.

While neither player is considered a scoring threat, they both bring different intangibles to the table. Richard-Harris is the team’s second-leading assister (33 dimes) while the freshman Young has been able to provide an immediate impact.

LSU rolls out an eight-player rotation, bringing Karli Seay, Jailin Cherry, and Awa Trasi off the bench.

Trasi is a 6-foot-1 forward and arguably the team’s top threat from the perimeter. She’s the only Tiger who has made at least 40 percent of her outside looks. Overall, LSU isn’t a team that’s going to win games with the deep ball (they’ve made the fewest amount of triples among all 14 SEC teams), but Trasi has shown the ability to fill it up and help stretch the floor.

Seay and Cherry provide a scoring punch off the bench as they both shoot over 40 percent from the floor.

As we’ve alluded to, LSU isn’t a great shooting team. They are a horrendous outside shooting team and shoot even worse from the charity stripe (although they do have a knack for drawing fouls. LSU is sixth in the SEC in free-throws attempted, but second-to-last in percentage). The Tigers will try to eat, sleep, and breathe inside the paint, especially with a 6-foot-5 center down low. Kentucky will be undersized agaisnt the LSU starting lineup and will need valuable minutes from Cole and Ogcehi Anyagaligbo to slow them down. Tatyana Wyatt has a recent track record of dealing with foul trouble, so keeping her on the floor early in the game could be a big key.

Mitchell and Aifuwa will present the biggest challenge for Kentucky, but other than that, their size off the bench won’t bother the ‘Cats. LSU brings just one player off the pine that stands over 6-feet tall.

It should be another big day for Kentucky’s Rhyne Howard (just like every day), who currently leads the SEC in scoring at 23.8 points per game. The ‘Cats are the conference’s best three-point shooting team and will use that to their advantage against the size of LSU. If they’re knocking down outside shots like they were against Texas A&M (11-25 from deep in the win), Kentucky shouldn’t have much of an issue disposing of the Tigers.

Tipoff is at 2 p.m. on the SEC Network. Make sure to tune in.

Article written by Zack Geoghegan

Recruiting reporter for KSR. Follow me on Twitter: @ZGeogheganKSR