DALLAS – Kim Mulkey is back in another national championship game, this time taking the flagship university from her home state there for the first time.
It took LSU only two seasons to get there with the feisty and flamboyantly dressed coach, and a big comeback in the national semifinal game that was quite an undercard Friday night.
Alexis Morris scored 27 points and had two of her misses in the fourth quarter turned into putback baskets by Angel Reese in a big run as LSU rallied to beat top-seeded Virginia Tech 79-72 in the first semifinal game.
“I’m never satisfied. I’m super-excited that we won, but I’m hungry," said Morris, who jumped on a courtside table and fired up LSU fans after the game. “Like, I’m greedy. I want to win it all so I can complete the story.”
Reese finished with 24 points and 12 rebounds for LSU (33-2), which will play in the national title game Sunday against fellow AP All-American Caitlin Clark and Iowa (31-6), which beat previously undefeated South Carolina 77-73 in their highly anticipated matchup and prevented an all-Southeastern Conference final.
“It’s like a dream. It still hasn’t hit me that I’m at the Final Four,” said Reese, the transfer from Maryland who carries the nickname, ”Bayou Barbie." “I’m just not even believing this right now. It’s crazy how much my life has changed in one year.”
Mulkey — in a carnation pink top this time — won three national titles in four Final Four appearances over her 21 seasons at Baylor. She is only the second coach to take two different teams to the national championship game. The other is C. Vivian Stringer, who did it with Cheyney in the inaugural 1982 women’s tournament and Rutgers in 2007.
“I came home for lots of reasons,” Mulkey said. “One, to some day hang a championship banner in the PMAC (Pete Maravich Assembly Center). Never, ever do you think you’re going to do something like this in two years.”
LSU made five national semifinal games in a row from 2004-08 — the only times the Tigers had made it this far. They lost each of those years.
The Tigers had to dig deep for this one, with neither team backing down.
Trailing 59-50 after three quarters, LSU went ahead with a 15-0 run over a five-minute span. The Tigers led for the first time since late in the first half when Falu'jae Johnson had a steal and drove for a layup to make it 64-62.
Reese had six points in that game-turning spurt, including a basket after Morris' attempted 3-pointer clanked off the front rim. Reese had a second-effort follow of her own miss after rebounding another shot by Morris.
Elizabeth Kitley, the 6-foot-6 senior, had 18 points and 12 rebounds for Virginia Tech (31-5), the Atlantic Coast Conference champion that was in the Final Four for the first time. Georgia Amoore and Kayana Traylor each had 17 points, while Cayla King had 14.
Amoore set a record for the most 3-pointers in a single NCAA Tournament with 24, though she had a tough night shooting — 4 of 17 overall, including 4 of 15 from beyond the arc. She passed Kia Nurse’s record 22 set in the 2017 tourney for UConn, which lost in the national semifinals on the same court. Arizona’s Aari McDonald had 22 in six NCAA tourney games two years ago.
The big run for LSU came right after Amoore made her last 3-pointer with 7:52 left for a 62-57 lead. The Hokies didn't make another basket until King's 3 with 1:19 left.
“I think we had a few crucial turnovers as well as missed box-outs where they scored on second-chance opportunities," Traylor said. "I think that’s just what it came down to really.”
Morris had opened the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer for LSU, then had a driving layup before Reese had a layup after a steal by Johnson. That quick 7-0 run prompted a timeout by Hokies coach Kenny Brooks.
“They hit a couple of shots, gave them a little bit of momentum. They hit a 3 right off the bat … kind of changed the momentum,” Brooks said. “They were aggressive in the passing lanes. But they also were a little bit more aggressive down low.”
Virginia Tech had ended the first half with its own 11-0 run to lead for the first time, at 34-32 on Traylor’s driving layup with 53 seconds left.
But it was the Tigers who led for 17:55 of the first half with the Hokies getting off to a slow start shooting — they missed eight of their first nine shots — that an LSU cheerleader had an assist even before they officially had a shot.
King was charged with a turnover on a ball that hit the rim and bounced over the top of the backboard and got stuck there. With encouragement from officials and others at that end, a male cheerleader lifted up a female cheerleader, who knocked the ball down.
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