Mulkey: ’Sometimes, you have to go through it’

WILLIAMS DRIVE BY: LSU true freshman guard Mikaylah Williams from Parkway scored a team-high 17 points in the Lady Tigers’ season-opening loss to Colorado on Monday night in Las Vegas. (Photo courtesy LSU Athletics)

By RON HIGGINS, Journal sports writer

BATON ROUGE – Kim Mulkey has played or coached almost 1,500 games in her 48-year Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame career.

She has won seven women’s national championship rings – two as a player for Louisiana Tech in 1981 and 1982, one as Tech assistant in 1988, three as Baylor’s head coach in 2005, 2012 and 2019, and last season as LSU’s head coach.

The 61-year-old Mulkey has been challenged with just about every imaginable situation. So, when she offers an answer to a question or an opinion or advice, it’s not a guess. It’s an extremely well-seasoned “been there, done that” viewpoint.

During preseason practice throughout October, Mulkey told her defending national champions Lady Tigers they would have a target on their back all season.

“If you’re the favorite, you’re going to get everybody’s best shot,” Mulkey said.

Then last week leading to Monday night’s season-opener vs. Colorado in the Hall of Fame Series game in Las Vegas T-Mobile Arena, Mulkey repeatedly emphasized to her preseason No. 1 Tigers that the more experienced 20th ranked Buffs would not be an easy out.

“They’re poised and they’ve played a lot of games together,” Mulkey said. “Experience matters. They’ve got everything you need – quickness at point guard, they’re big inside and they’ve got 3-point shooting.”

And what happened? Colorado 92, LSU 78, the first time in almost 30 years that the defending national champ lost its season opener.

“Sometimes you just have to have it happen to you to maybe make you listen to your coach,” said Mulkey on Wednesday heading into tonight’s 7 p.m. home opener vs. Queens University of Charlotte. “It’s like raising a child and telling them `Don’t touch the stove, it’s going to burn you,’ and they touch it anyway.

“And then they have a little scar from the burn. Sometimes, you have to go through it.”

New transfers Hailey Van Lith (Louisville), Aneesah Morrow (DePaul), and true freshman Mikaylah Williams of Parkway Bossier joined returning starters Angel Reese and Flau’jae Johnson in the opening game starting lineup.

Reese, a first-team All-American last season, and Johnson, the 2023 SEC Freshman of the Year, were two of five returnees who had double-digit playing time. All returnees but sophomore reserve Sa’Myah Smith, who scored 16 points in almost 26 minutes, were due for a tongue-lashing from Mulkey at Wednesday’s pre-practice film review session of the Colorado loss.

“I hope that new film room has some good paint on the walls,” Mulkey said. “Make sure you take your cameras and leave because you might hear me all the way down the hall.”

Mulkey didn’t name names, but she pointed the finger at the upperclassmen.

The two largest NIL money earners in college sports – Reese (who has a $1.7 million NIL evaluation) and Johnson (who has a $1.1 million NIL evaluation) – played from the opening tip as if they were physically and mentally exhausted.

Reese finished with 16 points and 12 rebounds but lacked fire and played without her usual passion. Johnson scored just 3 points on a 3-pointer and had 4 fouls and 2 turnovers in an extremely uninspiring performance. 

“Losing hurts but what I witnessed on that floor. . .(the lack of) effort, energy, heart, fight,” Mulkey said. “The film will be about defense. What are you doing? The film will be about grit and guts. (Those players) on the floor the other day, they need to tell me why.

“We didn’t guard (Colorado shot 53.2 percent from the field, including 10 of 23 3-pointers) and we rebounded very poorly (a taller LSU team barely won the rebounding battle (39-37). That’s just not our identity, that’s not my identity as a coach and it’s my job to get us in that mindset again. We’ll get there but I don’t know when. It’s almost like last year’s team piecing it together.”

Besides Smith, Williams was the only player who showed up ready to play vs. Colorado. She scored a team-high 17 points on 8 of 16 field goal accuracy in her college debut.

“She’ll tell you there are some things she’s got to work on defensively, but the moment was not too big for her,” Mulkey said of Williams. “She wasn’t afraid to take that mid-range jumper. I wasn’t surprised how she played. She’s very talented.”

Before tonight’s tipoff, the LSU team, coaching staff, support staff and the Lady Tigers’ all-male practice team will receive their 2023 national championship rings. Also, the national championship banner will be unfurled in the rafters.

Doors to the PMAC will open at 5:30 p.m. with the ceremony set to begin at 6:20.

The SECN+ broadcast with Garrett Walvoord and Lyn Rollins starts at 7 with a ceremony recap before the game tips. The radio broadcast can be heard on the LSU Sports Radio Network via the LSU sports website.

Queens, LSU’s opponent, is a Division 1 school that lost its Monday season opener 91-44 at Ole Miss.

“I’ve got a scouting report on Queens, but quite honestly by the time I’m done with them (Mulkey’s team) in the film room, I’m not even sure I’m going to go over this,” Mulkey said. “What we need to do is take care of us.”

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