GEORGE TOWN, Cayman Islands - The No. 7 LSU women's basketball team won its first game of the Cayman Islands Classic against Niagara, 99-65, in the John Gray Gymnasium Friday afternoon.
LSU was forced to play with a small lineup most of the day after Sa'Myah Smith went down within the first five minutes of the game, suffering an apparent right knee injury. It is doubtful she will play Saturday against Virginia and will be evaluated further upon LSU's return to Baton Rouge.
"I thought considering we did not anticipate an injury to Sa'Myah who is playing her best basketball since she's been at LSU," Coach Kim Mulkey explained, "do you go big with a (big) freshman or do you go small with more experience. We chose to go small, and I thought we handled it beautifully. But Niagara plays that style where it's okay to have small. Tomorrow (against Virginia) you may not be able to go small."
That small lineup consisted mainly of Hailey Van Lith, Flau'Jae Johnson, Mikaylah Williams and Last-Tear Poa as the four guards along with Aneesah Morrow as the lone forward. The group played well off each other to the tune of 60 first half points. LSU had four double-figure scorers in the first half.
Morrow and Van Lith led the Tigers with 28 and 20 points, respectively. It was the first game that both players reached the 20-point mark for the Tigers.
Morrow led all scorers with 28 points and 10 rebounds to secure her second double-double this season. The Chicago native went 10-17 from the field and was a perfect 8-8 from the charity stripe. Morrow also led the team in steals with five, her third game in the past four with 5+ steals, and added two blocks.
Van Lith also had her best outing as a Tiger with 20 points on 7-14 from the field. She also led the Tigers with seven assists to match her season high.
Mikaylah Williams had 19 points. She battled foul trouble much of the day after putting up 10 points in the first quarter which kept her from scoring more. She continued to show the ability to score efficiently, sinking 75-percent of her shots. Flau'Jae Johnson scored 14 and grabbed 8 rebounds.
"I thought we were good in the first half," said Coach Mulkey whose team scored 60 first half points. "I thought we were really good and handling - we had to improvise. You're looking at four guards out there and we haven't had to do much of that all year."
Niagara's Chardonnay Hartley led her squad with 18 points on 5-14 from the field. Hartley led her team with 4 assists and 8 free throws. Destiny Strother was the only other player to reach double figures with 11.
Both teams were in foul trouble for much of the game. Niagara had five players foul out while LSU had one foul out and three players who finished the game with four fouls. There was a total of 52 fouls in the game. LSU was 24-30 from the free-throw line compared to Niagara's 15-21.
LSU will play its second and final game of the Classic tomorrow afternoon at 4:00 p.m. CT as it takes on Virginia. The Tigers will return home for the SEC/ACC Challenge on Thursday at 8:00 p.m. CT to take on Virginia Tech. The Tigers defeated the Hokies in the semifinal game of last year's national championship run.
Friday's game was delayed from its scheduled 12:30 tip after the gymnasium was evacuated after a fire alarm sounded.
After a Williams triple gave LSU the first points of the game Van Lith added to the total with a fast break layup on a steal at half court to make it 5-2. A 8-0 run put the Tigers up by 9 with just under five to play in the first. The LSU defense held Niagara scoreless for over three minutes before Porter snapped the stint with her first three-pointer of the day. After the first ten minutes LSU amassed a 14-point lead behind Williams' ten first quarter points. Niagara became the first team to out rebound LSU as it did so 39-38.
Last-Tear Poa forced Niagara's 12th turnover as she drew an offensive foul for the second time two minutes into the second. LSU pieced together an 21-0 run as it held the Purple Eagles without a bucket for just under seven minutes. Aalyah Del Rosario scored her first points of the game off a Poa assist to push LSU past the 40-point mark. Morrow sank two free throws to extend the run to 20-0 and get into double figures. LSU finished the quarter making 9 of its last 10 shots from the field to take a 60-27 lead into the break as four players went into halftime with at least 10 points.
LSU went 21-31 from the field in the first half compared to Niagara's 7-32. The Tigers combined for six blocks and six steals in the first half. Sa'Myah Smith had two blocks before leaving the game in the first quarter with an injury. Morrow accounted for half of the team's steals.
The Purple Eagles took advantage of a slow LSU start as they went on a 6-0 run to outscore the Tigers 12-10 in the opening six minutes of the third quarter. The Tiger defense went on to hold Niagara scoreless and take a 42-point lead into the final quarter.
LSU's lead was too much for Niagara in the final quarter. The Purple Eagles outscored the Tigers 26-18 in the fourth quarter for the first time. Del Rosario, Janae Kent, and Izzy Besselman all came off the bench to score in the final quarter. LSU finished just one point shy of the century mark, 99-65.