BATON ROUGE – Basketball coaches like to save their timeouts.
In a tight game in which every possession counts, they like to have as many TOs in their back pocket as possible.
Maybe to cool a scoring run by the opposition.
Or to bail out their inbounds passer to avoid a five-second violation.
Or to design a game-winning shot.
Or, in the case of LSU women’s basketball head coach Kim Mulkey, to make sure a player who just dropped 42 points in her fourth college game gets the curtain call she deserves.
With 50 seconds left in No. 7 LSU’s 109-79 Tuesday afternoon victory over Kent State in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, Mulkey called time and waited with open arms to hug freshman guard Mikaylah Williams as she exited the court after a full but efficient 36 minutes and 4 seconds of work.
The stat line for the former Parkway High phenom: 15 of 20 field goals including 5 of 8 3-pointers, 7 of 7 free throws, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals and just 2 turnovers.
Williams’ 42 points was a personal high including all her high school and AAU games. It was the most by an LSU freshman since the NCAA era of women’s basketball began in 1981-82 and the most by a Tiger player since Cornelia Gayden scored 43 vs. TCU in 1996.
Mulkey, who pulled Williams close and whispered in her ear before sending her down the line to high-five the entire LSU bench, wouldn’t reveal afterward her exact words to Williams.
“It’s what you do as a coach in moments when they feel good,” Mulkey said.
Three guesses on what Mulkey may have said:
- “You are staying for at least 3 seasons, aren’t you?”
- “You’ve got the green light to shoot whenever and wherever.”
- “Are you sure you’re just a freshman?”
Rarely has Mulkey in her storied 24 seasons as a head coach had such a polished, plug-and-play newbie right out of the starting gate who’s averaging 22 points and 5 rebounds while shooting 62.2 percent from the field, 63.1 percent in 3-pointers and 83.3 percent from the free throw line.
“Mikayla knows she’s good, but I don’t think she knows how good she can be,” Mulkey said. “I want to be that coach that pushes her beyond the limits she thinks she has. You’ve just seen her scratch the surface today.”
The crazy thing is in three of her first four games as a starter on the defending national champions, Williams has been the steadiest rock-solid player in an LSU uniform.
Her motivation isn’t about increasing possible NIL deals or gaining social media followers or recording rap albums or becoming the face of change in women’s sports.
Williams is just a baller through and through. You can see it the way she carries herself on the court. She doesn’t have a flashy bone in her body. The beauty of her game is her sound fundamentals, the efficiency of her moves, her high basketball IQ that allows her to quickly assess situations and her deliberate pace that only accelerates when needed.
“That just goes to show I was trained when I was back at home, that when I speed up, turnovers happen,” Williams said. “So, I just stay on my pace.”
Almost every shot Williams takes comes in the flow of the offense. Because she has a solidly built 6-foot frame, defenders tend to underestimate her quickness. She’s strong to muscle through contact and finish drives, but her stop-and-pop midrange jumper is something rarely seen these days in women’s and men’s basketball.
“It all starts with practice,” Williams insisted, sounding like a crusty old veteran. “How you practice is how you play. Coach Mulkey has been riding me and staying on my tail about working hard and effort. The practice paid off in the game.”
Kent State head coach Todd Starkey was suitably dazzled by Williams.
“Our goal was to make her take tough shots and she (Williams) did,” Starkey said.
“That’s as fine a 1½ quarters that I’ve seen played against us,” Starkey said. “If you’re knocking down 25-foot 3’s with a hand in your face, then good for you.
“Last year we played Ta’Niya Latson of Florida State, and she ended up being national Freshman of the Year. If Mikaylah Williams keeps playing like that, we’ll have played national Freshman of the Year in back-to-back years.”
Williams torched Kent State for 32 points in LSU’s school-record 70-point second half, scoring 14 in the third quarter and 18 in the fourth. She hit 11 of her last 13 shots.
“My teammates knew I had the hot hand and they were finding me,” Williams said. “I just executed on the shots.”
Mulkey, who once upon a time averaged more than 30 points per game as the point guard of four Hammond High state championship teams, knew what Williams was feeling.
“It’s just one of those moments when you feel that rim is as big as the ocean,” Mulkey said.