MINNEAPOLIS – Kim Mulkey knew she had a rebuilding project when she took over as coach of LSU this season.
The longtime Baylor coach quickly was able to orchestrate an incredible turnaround for the Tigers, who won 26 games — 17 more than last season.
Mulkey was honored Thursday as The Associated Press women's basketball Coach of the Year, the third time she has won the award. Geno Auriemma and Muffet McGraw are the only other coaches to have accomplished the feat.
“I'm certainly honored to be in that group,” Mulkey said. “This doesn't happen without players who allow you to coach them and buy into a system. We had a really, really good year.”
Mulkey received 10 votes from the 30-member national media panel that votes on the AP Top 25 each week. South Carolina Dawn Staley was second with eight votes. Stanford's Tara VanDerveer received three while Nicki Collen, who replaced Mulkey at Baylor, got two along with Wes Moore of N.C. State. Five coaches got one vote apiece.
The veteran coach shared the stage with AP Player of the Year Aliyah Boston, who she coached against this year.
Mulkey, who was surprised by her team last week who told her she won, thanked her coaches and individually named each of her players in the ceremony. She choked up when talking about her family, who were still in Texas.
LSU rose to No. 6 in the AP poll and hosted the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. The Tigers lost to Ohio State in the second round and finished with more than 25 wins for the first time since the 2007-08 season. Mulkey compared this season to her first at Baylor when she inherited a team that won just seven games the year before she took over.
“You make goals that are realistic such as having a winning season,” she said. “Beat your first ranked team, we’re going to celebrate that. In conference if we finish in the top half of SEC we can then potentially get to the NCAA Tournament. It sounds so simple. but you have to crawl before you can walk, and have to walk before you can run. We were just realistic.”
The Tigers went 13-3 in the tough Southeastern Conference and had wins over Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky. Mulkey's squad also played South Carolina tough, only falling by six points.
After the ceremony, Mulkey bumped into Nikki Fargas, the coach she replaced at LSU. The two hugged and had a 15-minute conversation. It was the first time they had talked since Mulkey got the job.
Mulkey grew up in Louisiana and won national titles with Louisiana Tech as both a player and assistant coach before a 21-year run at Baylor in which she won three national titles and became the fastest coach in women’s college basketball history to 600 victories, doing so in just 700 games. In 2020, she was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Mulkey also won AP Coach of the Year in 2012 and 2019 while at Baylor.
“I can't name all the things that the team did this year but it was unbelievable,” she said. “We were not supposed to do what we did in a year. That’s hard to do.”
More AP coverage of March Madness: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness and https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25