By RON HIGGINS, Journal Sports
BATON ROUGE – After LSU women’s head basketball coach Kim Mulkey raised a stink about the lack of energy displayed by her veterans in Monday’s season opening 14-point upset loss to No. 20 Colorado, the No. 1 ranked Lady Tigers raised their 2023 NCAA national championship banner before Thursday night’s home opener in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
After receiving their national championship rings, LSU finally put the glorious 2022-23 season to rest by burying Queens University of Charlotte 112-55 before a crowd of 10,371.
“When I tell you it (Wednesday’s practice) it was so intense and hard, I had to ask (associate head coach) Bob (Starkey) to take over because I needed to take a deep breath,” Mulkey said. “They (her team) want to please, but they aren’t comfortable yet.
“It’s okay to be uncomfortable right now. I want them to be uncomfortable. I want them to hurt. And I want them to remember how bad that was on Monday. And it wasn’t the loss. It was how you play – no guts, no heart, no fire, no energy.”
Mulkey, displeased about her team’s lack of inside offensive and defensive toughness and lackadaisical rebounding vs. Colorado, was rewarded with LSU’s 68-12 points in the paint and 49-21 rebounding dominations Thursday.
Against a vastly weaker opponent, LSU (1-1) did what it was supposed to do from start to finish.
Returning starters Angel Reese and Flau’jae Johnson, the most obvious Tigers’ veterans who sleepwalked their way through the stunning 92-78 loss to the Buffaloes in the Hall of Fame Series game in Las Vegas, played with the expected required energy and focus.
Reese’s double-double of 28 points and 14 rebounds featured her scoring 21 first-half points as LSU’s 17-0 run to open the second quarter expanded the Tigers’ 13-point first-quarter lead to 26 points (56-30) at halftime.
“I felt I let my team down on Monday and trying to get back to the player that I am and that they know me for,” Reese said. “So I just went for rebounds first and then just trying to score as much as I can and do whatever it takes to win.
“We had to respond tonight. It was important for us to respond. I think we responded.”
Although Johnson’s offensive stats – 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting and 6 rebounds weren’t as eye-catching as Reese’s – she was a relentless defender with 3 steals and 3 blocked shots.
Mulkey’s only starting lineup switch from Monday’s opener was starting 6-2 returning sophomore Sa’Myah Smith instead of 6-1 DePaul transfer Annesah Morrow.
Smith, who scored 16 points and grabbed 5 rebounds in 26 minutes off the bench vs. Colorado, scored a career-high 21 points and collected 8 rebounds in her first college start.
Morrow was solid also, scoring 16 points in 19 minutes. Freshman guard Mikaylah Williams of Parkway High, who got in first-half foul trouble after starting her second straight game, finished with 9 points in 16 minutes.
The fact LSU’s 112 points was the second most in Mulkey’s 70 games as the Lady Tigers’ coach meant nothing to her.
“I don’t even care that we scored in the hundreds,” Mulkey said. “I’m so focused on defense right now. I’m challenging some of them like they’ve never been challenged in their life. From body language to being in a stance to talking on defense, to where are your angles. It’s just got to be that way.”
Junior guard Nicole Gwynn, playing her second game for Queens after transferring from South Carolina State, refused to let her get embarrassed. She scored a team-high 26 points, wowing the crowd by hitting 8 of 14 extremely deep rainbow 3-pointers.
“I’m just super happy and thrilled we got a chance to play against them,” Gwynn said. “This is really big for us.”
Mulkey complimented Queens head coach Jen Brown for allowing her team to sit on its bench and watch LSU’s pregame ring ceremony and banner raising.
“Just being to be able a part of history and talking to Coach Kim and the opportunity to see their ring ceremony and the banners is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Brown, whose team is 0-2 after also losing at Ole Miss on Monday. “It’s something we’ll cherish forever.”
Meanwhile, LSU is back in action with two home games in three days starting with Sunday’s 2 p.m. matchup with Mississippi Valley followed by a Tuesday 11 a.m. matchup with Kent State.
“We’re not a polished product, we’re a work in progress,” Mulkey said. “I don’t know when it’ll be really, really good. But we’ll get there.”
Contact Ron at firstname.lastname@example.org