Collision course: Using LSU’s example, Texas A&M’s relied on the transfer portal to make significant gains

No. 7 Tigers host Aggies in early-season SEC showdown

LSU junior Aneesah Morrow (24) is third in the SEC in scoring at 18.5 points for the No. 7 Tigers who host Texas A&M at 7 p.m. Thursday. PHOTO BY: Jonathan Mailhes

There’s no better example of using the NCAA transfer portal as valuable resource than LSU’s women’s basketball coach Kim Mulkey.

In winning the program’s first NCAA national championship, Mulkey did so in the spring before that season ever tipped off with four key transfers joining her existing roster.

The result of having forwards Angel Reese and LaDazhia Williams, and guards Jasmine Carson and Kateri Poole, was a 36-2 record and LSU cutting down the victory nets in Dallas following a 120-85 victory over Iowa.

Mulkey’s witnessed such aggressive approaches in the transfer portal pay off in different pockets across the country, including Thursday’s opponent Texas A&M which has already experienced a four-win turnaround in coach Joni Taylor’s second season.

No. 7 LSU (15-1, 2-0 in SEC) hosts Texas A&M (13-2, 1-1) at 7 p.m. in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center where the Aggies are one of the nation’s most improved teams with three transfers playing key roles this season.

The game will be streamed by the SEC Network+ and carried locally by 107.3-FM.

“The transfer portal has made a lot of teams better a lot faster and they’re a classic example of that,” Mulkey said Wednesday. “Joni (Taylor) has done a tremendous job of getting players that she needed. We all have. A&M’s doing exactly what they need to get better, and I have much respect for her.”

A&M had reeled off 10 consecutive wins until a 54-50 loss to Georgia in the SEC opener last Thursday for both teams. The Aggies, who were 9-20 a year ago, responded with a 66-44 victory over Auburn on Sunday.

Taylor has assembled a team that’s thrived on the defensive end of the floor, leading the nation in points allowed (48.87) and second in field goal percentage defense (31.4). A&M’s won seven games this season by allowing 50 points or less.

By comparison, LSU leads the nation in scoring (94.2) and has scored 90-plus points eight times and 100-plus points six times.

“We haven’t seen much of that this year,” Mulkey said of A&M’s penchant for playing man-to-man defense. “We’re scoring the ball at every position. Who are you going to help off of? We saw a lot of that (man-to-man) last year. We haven’t seen much of that this year. We expect A&M to do what they do. They play you man to man, throw a little 1-2-2 halfcourt (press) at you.

“When you’re trying to build a program and you have a decent team, and they’re really good on the defensive end, why are they going to change anything for any other team?” Mulkey said. “They may tweak a little thing here or there defensively, but your identity pretty much is what it is by now. We anticipate them to come in here and do what they’ve been doing all year long.”

A&M is led by a trio of transfers in 6-foot guard/forward Auburn transfer Aicha Coulibaly (11.7 points, 5.5 rebounds), 5-7 graduate point guard Endyia Rogers of Oregon (11.1 points, 3.7 rebounds, 26 3s, 63 assists) and 6-5 junior center Lauren Wade of Arizona (10.4, 8.9).

The Aggies also feature 6-4 sophomore forward Janiah Barker, a one-time Georgia signee who followed Taylor once she got the A&M job. She was the team’s leading scorer as a freshman last season at 12.7 with 5.9 rebounds, and tops the Aggies this year at 12.7 points, 8.9 rebounds and 50% shooting.

“I don’t care who you play, when you lead the nation in field goal percentage defense, you’re very active,” Mulkey said. “I just mean a philosophy and to do it with that many transfer this quickly, that tells you they’re working on it every day. I thought Ole Miss was outstanding and now we’re fixing to face a team that’s ranked higher that Ole Miss on the defensive end of the floor.”

LSU took down Ole Miss’ 27-game home winning streak with an 84-73 victory, a win that was a testament to the Tigers’ resiliency and calm under fire.

They scored a season-high point total against Ole Miss, but the Rebels erased a 50-37 halftime deficit with quarter-court pressure and took a 53-52 lead with 4:19 left in the third quarter.

With a partisan record crowd howling for Ole Miss, LSU didn’t flinch. The Tigers rattled off an 8-0 run thanks to a 3-pointer from freshman Mikaylah Williams, led by 67-62 going into the fourth and built a lead as big as 15 points (79-64) with six minutes to play.

LSU has five players in double figures, led by 21 points from Angel Reese and 20 from Williams, and Reese now ranks second in the SEC in scoring (19.83) and second in rebounding (11.0). Junior Aneesah Morrow is third (18.5) in scoring and seventh in rebounding (8.50), while Williams is sixth in scoring (16.94).

The Tigers lead the SEC in rebound margin (16.56) and steals per game (12.81) and is second in assists per game (17.97).

“I’m watching their body language. I watch what they say to each other,” Mulkey said of her team after Ole Miss led for 21 seconds in the second half. “I never saw them get rattled. When they took the lead, it was like let’s get back out there. They feed off of crowds on the road. You’ve seen them do this (hand gesturing to bring it on), they view it (big crowds) as they’re coming to see LSU.”

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