Redshirt freshman center Faustine Aifuwa has become a difference maker for the Lady Tigers this season after coming back from a torn ACL.
Aifuwa, who stands at 6-foot-5, is the Lady Tigers’ tallest player in their regular lineup and has been able to make an impact in the paint this season.
“I had just been trying to work in practice,” she said. “I have been improving each game. Hopefully, I will keep going from here.”
Before Aifuwa came to LSU, she was a highly rated recruit out of Georgia. The Lady Tigers had hoped she would be able to provide help for then-senior center Alexis Hyder and now-sophomore forward Ayana Mitchell in the post against taller SEC foes last season.
It was not meant to be.
Before the 2016 season even started, Aifuwa went down with an ACL tear in a closed scrimmage.
After a year on the bench, she was ready to play for LSU when the team travelled to Italy this summer. She made an immediate impact, but only now does Aifuwa think her confidence is completely back.
“It was difficult being off the basketball court for those six months,” she said. “I knew at the end, it would all pay off. Our trainer, Micki Collins, got me back in shape, so I knew it would all be worth it in the end.”
While she was on the bench last season, she took the opportunity to watch the Lady Tigers’ matchup zone in action.
It allowed her to be familiar with LSU’s difficult defensive season before stepping on the court and the conference opponents they have faced.
“It helps a little bit, because I do remember them from last year,” she explained. “I am already kind of one step above the game. Mentally, I feel like sophomore even though I am still a freshman.”
Physically, she has been able to make an impact as well. She is fourth in points per game averaging 5.6, and second in rebounding contributing 5.1, the most of the five newcomers on the squad.
She is ranked seventh among SEC players in blocks per game and second for freshmen with 1.6 per game. Aifuwa has tallied 23 blocks on the season, seven coming against Sam Houston State University.
“I try not to block every shot,” said Aifuwa. “I just try to get every opportunity. It has become very good for me.”
Her contributions were instrumental in LSU’s eight game winning streak.
Aifuwa started two games for the Lady Tigers at the start of the season, but has become a more valuable contributor to her team off of the bench.
“She has been working harder than she has entire life,” said coach Nikki Fargas. “She still has room to work, but she is showing improvement in that. She is a
Aifuwa’s presence off the bench has provided much needed relief to Mitchell, who was often faced with the tall task of defending SEC centers, six of which were finalists for the Lisa Leslie Award for the best center in the nation.
Along with 6-foot-4 freshman forward Raven Farley, Aifuwa has provided a much needed boost for LSU’s post game.
“I think our freshman are doing a great job stepping in offensively and defensively” Mitchell said. “I think some of the teams are going to be a challenge for them, but they can handle.”
“Even though we go at different times, we all bring the same energy,” Aifuwa agreed. “We can just balance everything out for each other.”
While Aifuwa struggled against the challenge of Mississippi State’s Lisa Leslie Award finalist junior Teaira McCowan who scored 31 points and 20 rebounds, she helped shut down Missouri’s Lisa Leslie Award finalist senior Cierra Porter, who scored just seven points.
“I have been excited for these matchups,” Aifuwa said. “I am excited to see what we can do against players like them.”
She is not alone in that excitement. Fargas believes Aifuwa could be one of the best post players to ever play for LSU.
“We have not had a big with her athleticism and size, since Sylvia [Fowles],” Fargas said. “She definitely has the potential to be really good. I think the maturity process needs to speed up. She is very young. If she can stay grounded and humble, the sky is the limit for her.”