At the end of No. 7 LSU’s 82-64 victory over No. 9 Virginia Tech in Thursday’s SEC/ACC Challenge, third-year coach Kim Mulkey saw her life flashed before her eyes.
To commemorate Mulkey’s 700th career victory, the school posted a video tribute to the coach that reached the milestone faster than any coach in history – male or female. A long list of some of her former players took turns expressing their gratitude and wishing Mulkey congratulations for arriving at such a landmark in 813 games.
“It’s touching,” Mulkey said afterward. “Some of those people on the screen I hadn’t seen since I coached them. They have children now, they’re married.”
LSU (8-1) won its seventh straight game before a crowd of 10,790 at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center that also welcomed the return of first team All-America forward Angel Reese from a four-game absence for undisclosed reasons.
Freshman Mikaylah Williams led four players in double figures with a team-high 20 points and Reese and Aneesah Morrow both added 19 points. Morrow, who scored 11 points in the first half, delivered her third straight double-double, adding 15 points, while guard Flau’jae Johnson added 13.
“It was a long two weeks to be away from the team,” said Reese, who added nine rebounds, two assists and a steal in 29 minutes. “Taking time for yourself is really important and resetting and refocusing. I’m just happy to be back. This place was amazing tonight. I’m just happy to be with them.”
The paths of LSU and Virginia Tech crossed for the second time in seven months. The Tigers rallied for a 79-72 victory over the Hokies in the semifinals of the Final Four in Dallas.
LSU shot 50% (31 of 62), held an advantage of 43-29 in rebounds and made 65.4% of its free throws (17 of 26).
“What I saw on the floor was special by everyone that got to play, and it was absolutely wonderful,” Mulkey said.
LSU’s point total and field goal percentage were the highest allowed by a Virginia Tech defense allowing 58.3 points and yielding 35.2 shooting from the floor. The Hokies, who were averaging 80.3 points, were held to their second fewest points of the season and were led by the game-high 25 of guard Georgia Amoore.
It was Virginia Tech’s worst loss since a 71-46 setback last season to North Carolina.
“You saw happiness out there,” Mulkey said. “You saw kids five-fiving out there. You saw when we got behind kids lifting other kids up. You saw some roles that have changed a little bit.”
Williams, who added six rebounds and five assists, came alive in the third quarter with seven points and LSU made 8 of its first 10 shots, and Johnson made it 53-35 with consecutive baskets at the 5:24 mark.
That 18-8 surge carried LSU to a double-digit lead they never relinquished the rest of the way. The Tigers took a 61-48 lead into the fourth quarter, extending that lead to 73-54 with 5:05 to play.
“We played bad in the second quarter,” Va. Tech coach Kenny Brooks, whose team fell to 5-2. “They outscored us 22-9, we shot 18%. We came out, we needed to have a good start and right away we turned the ball over and gave them a layup. They got a couple of leak outs. We’re not getting back and communicating in transition. That was a damper in trying to get off to a good start in the third quarter and they took advantage of it.”
Johnson battled for a loose ball under her own goal, securing the loose ball and scoring while being fouled for the 19-point lead with 5:05 left.
Reese fouled out Va. Tech’s 6-foot-6 center Elizabeth Kitley with 4:35 showing, making one of two free throws for a 74-56 advantage that reached 22 points (82-60) on Reese’s layup with 1:01 left.
“I want people to realize I’m not just an athlete, I’m a human,” said Reese, who was honored before the game for reaching 1,000 rebounds in her career. “I go through things. We all go through things and to have to many people that were super supportive to me in this past week and a half showed me a lot, and who really cares for me. When you’re up, everybody loves you. You down, you see how realty loves you. Just being able to have supportive people through a tough time was important.”
LSU put together a 9-0 run that bridged the end of end of the first quarter with the first three minutes of the second quarter for a 20-20 deadlock.
The game was tied four times in the quarter when Morrow hit a 15-footer and then drove the length of the floor following a steal that made it 27-25 – a stretch where the Tigers erased a 20-11 deficit with a 16-5 run.
“I know that a lot of people said that what I did was at DePaul,” Morrow said, “but I can perform on any level, and I showed that tonight.”
LSU, which shot 50% (8 of 16) in the quarter, gained a little separation with an 8-0 run for a 35-27 lead on Williams’ 15-foot baseline jumper. The Tigers settled for a 35-29 halftime lead when Kitley ended a four-minute scoring drought for the Hokies, who shot 18.8% (3 of 16) in the quarter, with a pair of free throws with 32.2 seconds left.
“I did as much as I could today,” Reese said. “We have a lot of leadership outside of me. Seeing this team grow from when I wasn’t here shows and I’m really happy for this team for where we’re at.”