Shooting and shooting and hard play and rebounding – that is how LSU was able to win its first National Championship, over Iowa Sunday, 105-82.
Angel Reese lead the way with 15 points and 10 rebounds, while Alexis Morris scored 19 of her 21 points in the second half.
A lot of the damage that these two did came in the last two quarters, as they sat a large portion of the first half in foul trouble. Jasmine Carson kept them afloat, with 21 points in quarters 1 and 2, as she went 5-of-5 from 3-point range.
“Hard work pays off, and God is great,” Carson said. “Everybody’s journey is different, and you should just embrace your journey. I couldn’t have wanted a better ending than for it to end like this.”
This run is the culmination of second-year Tiger head coach Kim Mulkey’s leadership and recruiting, which has resulted in her fourth national championship as a head coach, with three of them coming at Baylor. They built off of the foundation last season where they went 26-6 and advanced to the second round of the Tournament as a No. 3 seed.
This year LSU finished the season at 34-2, with their only two losses coming to South Carolina in the regular season and Tennessee in the SEC Tournament. They were ranked as high as No. 3 in the AP Top 25, led by national player of the year candidate Reese, who averaged 23 points and 15 rebounds on the year.
She was one of nine new additions to the roster that allowed them to win the title. Reese transferred there from Maryland after a season where she averaged 18 points and 11 rebounds per game. Other transfers included Morris, Carson, LaDazhia Williams, Last-Tear Poa and Poole. Freshmen Alisa Williams, Izzy Besselman and Flau’jae Johnson also stepped up big.
Williams made her presence felt with 20 points and five rebounds and Johnson had 10 points, seven rebounds and four assists. All of this enabled them to go into halftime with a 59-42 lead despite missing their stars. Reese said it was a team effort.
“This wasn’t about me,” she said. “This is all about the supporting cast. Everybody played a role tonight…Everybody played their role. Just everybody piecing it together.”
The Tigers were a threat on both ends of the floor over the season, scoring 82.3 points per game and allowing just 57.9 from opponents.
Not only did they eclipse their average in the title game, but their total was the most ever scored in a championship game. LSU also locked down Hawkeye star Caitlin Clark, who scored 14 points in the first quarter and just 16 the rest of the way. It was a far cry from Friday’s semifinal, when Clark lit up the defending champion Gamecocks for 41 points.
“I knew going into this game Iowa wouldn’t be able to guard us the same, how they guarded South Carolina,” Morris said. “So I just kind of like, we just had to read their defense and make the right plays and not try to force anything and just be LSU. Stay true to our identity and what got us here to this point.”
The Tigers did a good job of playing to their strengths throughout the Tournament, as they dominated Hawaii and Michigan in opening rounds. In the Sweet 16 they were pushed to the brink against Utah, which required Morris to make late free throws in order to survive for a 66-63 win. After that came Miami, who had taken out No. 1 seed Indiana and No. 4 seed Villanova. LSU managed to win that defensive slugfest, 54-42.
In the semifinal game against Virginia Tech, they trailed 59-50 going into the fourth quarter and managed to outscore the Hokies 29-13 in that quarter for the 70-72 victory.
Mulkey, who returned to her home state when taking the job in 2021, said this was the plan all along.
“I made a statement and asked everyone to turn around and look at those Final Four banners,” she said. “Nowhere did it say “national champions,” and that’s what I came to do.”
Mulkey previously won two as both a player and an assistant coach for Louisiana Tech.
“I’m so happy,” she said. “I really don’t know how to explain it. Just a deep gratitude and happiness.”