DALLAS (AP) – Kim Mulkey is back for another national championship game, this time taking on her home state’s premier university for the first time.
It took LSU just two seasons to get there with a vivacious and flamboyantly dressed coach, and a big comeback in a national semifinal game that was a pretty bad draw on Friday night.
Alexis Morris scored 27 points and had two fourth-quarter turnovers that Angel Reese turned into big comeback baskets as LSU rallied to beat top-seeded Virginia Tech 79-72 in Game 1 of the semifinals.
“I’m never satisfied. I’m very excited that we won, but I’m hungry,” said Morris, who jumped on a courtside table after the game and fired up LSU fans. “Like, I’m greedy. I want to beat everyone so I can finish the story.”
Reese finished with 24 points and 12 rebounds for LSU (33-2), which will play in Sunday’s national title game against the winner of a highly anticipated matchup between South Carolina or Iowa in the second semifinal.
“It’s like a dream. “It still hasn’t hit me that I’m in the Final Four,” said Reese, a transfer from Maryland who goes by the nickname “Bayou Barbie.” “I just don’t believe in this right now. It’s crazy how much my life has changed in a year.”
Mulkey – this time in a pink carnation shirt – won three national titles in four Final Four appearances during 21 seasons at Baylor. She is only the second coach to lead two different teams to the national championship game. The other is C. Vivian Stringer, who did it with Cheyney in the inaugural women’s tournament in 1982 and Rutgers in 2007.
“I came home for a lot of reasons,” Mulkey said. “One, to hang a championship banner in the PMAC (Pete Maravich Assembly Center) one day. You never, ever think you’re going to do something like this in two years.”
LSU made five straight national semifinal appearances from 2004 to 2008 – the only time the Tigers made it this far. They lost every one of those years.
The Tigers had to dig deep for this one, and neither team quit.
Trailing 59-50 after three quarters, LSU went on a 15-0 run over a five-minute span. The Tigers led for the first time since the end of the first half when Falu’jae Johnson made a steal and drove for a layup to make it 64-62.
Reese had six points in that turnaround, including a basket after Morris’ 3-pointer bounced off the front rim. Reese had a second try after her miss after deflecting another shot from Morris.
Elizabeth Kitley, a 6-foot-6 senior, had 18 points and 12 rebounds for Virginia Tech (31-5), the Atlantic Coast Conference champion making its first appearance in the Final Four. Georgia Amoore and Kayana Traylor each had 17 points, while Cayla King had 14.
Amoore set the record for most 3-pointers made in a single NCAA tournament game with 24, although she had a rough shooting night – 4 of 17 overall, including 4 of 15 from beyond the arc. She surpassed Kia Nurse’s record of 22 set in the 2017 tournament for UConn, which lost in the national semifinals on the same court. Arizona’s Aari McDonald had 22 in six NCAA tournament games two years ago.
LSU’s big run came right after Amoore made her final 3-pointer with 7:52 left for a 62-57 lead. The Hokies didn’t score another field goal until King’s 3 with 1:19 left.
“I think we had some key turnovers as well as missed plays where they scored on second-chance opportunities,” Traylor said. “I think it really came down to that.”
Morris opened the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer for LSU, then had a layup before Reese’s layup on a steal by Johnson. That quick 7-0 run prompted a timeout by Hokies coach Kenny Brooks.
“They hit some shots, gave them some momentum. They hit 3s right off the bat … they kind of changed the momentum,” Brooks said. “They were aggressive in the passing lanes. But they were also a little bit more aggressive down low.”
Virginia Tech ended the first half with an 11-0 run to take its first lead at 34-32 on Traylor’s driving layup with 53 seconds left.
But the Tigers led 17:55 into the first half and the Hokies started shooting slowly – missing eight of their first nine shots – that an LSU cheerleader had an assist even before they officially scored.
King was charged with a turnover on a ball that hit the rim and bounced over the top of the backboard and stuck there. With encouragement from the officials and others in that end, the cheerleader picked up the cheerleader, who knocked the ball down.
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