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Mar 23, 2024 4:57 pm

LSU faces Middle Tennessee team coming off historic comeback

LSU

LSU had a much tougher time than expected against a huge underdog in its first game in the Women’s NCAA Tournament.

Now it’s facing another underdog that already has pulled off an upset.

The No. 3 seed and defending national champion Tigers (29-5) will face No. 11 Middle Tennessee (30-4) in the second round on Sunday afternoon in Baton Rouge, La.

LSU was favored by nearly 30 points against No. 14 Rice on Friday but never led by more than 11 points and had to fight to the final minute of a 70-60 victory.

Tigers coach Kim Mulkey focused on the result more than the quality of the performance.

“There were a lot of good teams that got beat (Friday) that weren’t supposed to get beat; we won,” Mulkey said.

LSU committed a season-high 24 turnovers, which included at least five by three different players. But the miscues created a deficit of just five points in points off turnovers while the Tigers made 22 of 31 free throws compared to 6 of 8 for the Owls.

“To emphasize the good things, we did hold them to (35.4 percent) from the field,” Mulkey said. “You’re going to win games when you do that. We didn’t shoot it bad, with the exception of a couple of players. I thought the other players had good shooting percentages in the shots that they took. I thought we got to the foul line, like we have all year.”

One of the players who didn’t shoot well was SEC Player of the Year Angel Reese, who made just 1 of 7 field-goal attempts in scoring 10 points, but added 19 rebounds for her 13th straight double-double.

Aneesah Morrow scored 15 points, Flau’jae Johnson and Mikaylah Williams scored 14 each, and Last-Tear Poa returned from a one-game absence due to a concussion suffered in the SEC tournament and finished with nine points and two blocks off the bench.

The Blue Raiders overcame an 18-point first-half deficit to upset Louisville — the third-largest such comeback in NCAA Tournament history.

“Basically it came down to guts and willpower,” Middle Tennessee coach Rick Insell said. “Who was going to will themselves to victory?”

The Blue Raiders trailed by 16 at the end of the first quarter and by 11 at halftime. They outscored the Cardinals 24-12 in the third quarter to take a 51-50 lead into the fourth quarter.

Middle Tennessee increased the lead to eight points twice in the fourth quarter, but Louisville made it a one-possession game four times in the final minute.

The Blue Raiders’ victory wasn’t secure until the Merissah Russell’s desperate shot from just beyond midcourt bounced off the rim at the buzzer.

Jalynn Gregory scored 24 points, Savannah Wheeler added 22 and Anastasiia Boldyreva had 11 points and 12 rebounds for Middle Tennessee.

“This group right here, they’ve got so much grit,” Insell said. “They’re not going to quit, give up. Most teams would have quit out there. I’ve seen that happen.”

–Field Level Media

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