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Mar 20, 2024 10:01 am

Third-seeded LSU locks in repeat mindset

Angel Reese

The LSU women’s basketball team hit a few bumps in the road during the preliminary stages of its intended journey to repeat as national champion.

The Tigers were the No. 1 team in the AP preseason poll, but lost their season opener to No. 20 Colorado 92-78.

Star forward Angel Reese was benched for four consecutive games early in the season because of what head coach Kim Mulkey called “locker-room issues.”

LSU lost two key players for good before New Year’s, then dropped three of five games in the second half of January.

Then the Tigers won eight straight games to close the regular season and two in the SEC tournament before falling to No. 1 South Carolina 79-72 in the title game.

The defending champions earned the No. 3 seed in the Albany II regional and will begin defense of their title in earnest when they host No. 14 Rice on Friday afternoon in Baton Rouge, La.

“Anyone seeing us moving forward should be scared,” said Reese, who bounced back to become the SEC Player of the Year.

Depth issues created by the losses of forward S’Myah Smith to injury and guard Kateri Poole — she left the program in December — were exacerbated during the SEC tournament as Reese played through a sore ankle, SEC Freshman of the Year Mikaylah Williams was limited by a foot injury and backup point guard Last-Tear Poa was sidelined by a concussion.

“We are in the process of getting healthy,” Mulkey said. “It’s that time of year where you want to be playing your best basketball. I really thought during the SEC tournament we were.”

Reese and Williams seem fine heading into the NCAA Tournament and Poa provided a social media post on Sunday saying she expects to be back in action “soon.”

The lasting image of the SEC finale was the late-game altercation that left the Tigers (28-5) with just five players and the Gamecocks with six after ejections were issued.

But that distracted from another toe-to-toe battle between the two rivals, whose regular-season meeting in Baton Rouge ended with South Carolina winning 76-70 after Reese fouled out with four minutes remaining.

Mulkey said the SEC tournament run, which began with victories against Auburn and Ole Miss, featured “toughness, talent, a will to win and leadership” from her team.

“I saw a lot of what it takes to win,” she continued, “and if you do that and you get beat along thee way then that team just did a little bit better than you did.”

Rice (19-14) earned an automatic bid by winning the American Athletic Conference tournament as the No. 10 seed.

The winner of the LSU-Rice game will face the winner of the game between No. 6 seed Louisville and No. 11 Middle Tennessee on Sunday in Baton Rouge.

“This is a tough, tough region,” Mulkey said. “I don’t really care about the seeding. You just want to get a first- and second-round game at home.”

Looming is a potential Elite Eight showdown with No. 1 seed Iowa in a rematch of last year’s title game and another meeting with South Carolina for this season’s title.

–Field Level Media

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