Emerging from the fire: Freshman Mikaylah Williams remains calm to help No. 7 LSU women’s basketball fend off Ole Miss’ challenge

Tigers have all five starters in double figures in double-digit road win

LSU forward Angel Reese (10) drives to the basket Sunday against Ole Miss. She led the No. 7 Tigers to a 84-73 victory over the Rebels. PHOTO BY: LSU athletics

If you wanted a temperature check to see how LSU freshman sensation Mikaylah Williams was running in her first Southeastern Conference road game, consider the following examples of her cold-blooded nature.

Williams shook Ole Miss senior defender Snudda Collins, who went flying backward toward the baseline when Williams whipped the ball behind her back, looked down at her and then hit a step-back 3-pointer late in the first half. After the No. 7 Tigers lost the handle on a 13-point halftime lead and trailed by a point midway through the first quarter, the Parade All-American calmy came up with a steal, stepped back to the 3-point line and dropped in her fourth 3-pointer to extend the Tigers’ lead.

Williams’ 20-point outing was part of No. 7 LSU’s balanced scoring with all five starters in double figures and the Tigers showed their mettle in the second half in a 84-73 victory Sunday before a record crowd of 9,074 at Ole Miss’ SBJ Pavilion.

“I don’t view her as a freshman,” LSU coach Kim Mulkey said. “She had a college-ready body, a mindset, confidence. I don’t have to sit down and have all of these meetings with the young ladies. When you’re a baller, you figure it out on the floor. Follow the scouting report, do what we ask you to do from the scouting report and just go ball. Mikaylah did that. She got seven big rebounds. You just let Mikalah play.”

LSU (15-1) extended its nation’s best winning streak to 15 games, overcoming a brief deficit in the third quarter to improve to 2-0 in SEC play.

First team All-America forward Angel Reese scored a team-high 21 points, grabbed nine rebounds, handed out four assists and had four steals. Williams reached the 20-point plateau for the seventh time this season with 20, including four 3-pointers, and four steals. Sophomore Flau’jae Johnson had 16 points, six rebounds and two blocked shots, while point guard Hailey Van Lith and Aneesah Morrow each added 13.

“You’ve got two kids out there with national championship rings, Flau’jae Johnson and Angel Reese,” Mulkey said. “I have so much confidence they can control their teammates and you just don’t get rattled. You’ve got two others (Van Lith, Morrow) that have been in college three or four years that are transfers. I’m sure they’ve been in big games, too.

“Except for Mikaylah being a freshman, some of them are pretty experienced players,” Mulkey said. “They view that crowd, and this is what competitors do, they view that crowd as their crowd. That crowd came to see us and when you have the mindset, the louder it gets you kind of block it out. That doesn’t factor into anything that goes on the floor. Kudos to Ole Miss. I thought it was a good, competitive game today.”

Ole Miss, the nation’s 12th ranked defensive team allowing 52.4 points, permitted a season-high total from LSU, which shot 47% (31 of 66) from the field and 61.5% from 3-point range (8 of 13) where the Tigers matched a season-high eight.

The Tigers outrebounded the Rebels 44-36, but it was the home team that forced 19 turnovers with 11 steals that led to 18 points.

“That allowed them to keep us from running our halfcourt offense,” Mulkey said of Ole Miss’ full-court pressure. “We were turning it over, we were running over people, we were sloppy with the ball. When we did get it over, it was less time on the shot clock to execute something. It was very effective. Then on the defensive end, we fouled them. Whatever could go wrong in the third quarter did go wrong.”

In order to try and cut into LSU’s 13-point halftime lead, Ole Miss’ three-quarter-court pressure that made the Tigers look erratic at times, allowing the Rebels to grab a 53-52 lead at the 4:19 mark of the third quarter.

Ole Miss (11-4, 1-1) started the quarter on a 5-0 run and went on a 16-3 blitz that Tyia Singleton capped with a putback for her team’s first lead since 1:21 mark of the first quarter.

Auburn transfer Marquesha Davis had a game-high 24 points to lead Ole Miss. The Rebels also benefitted from 81% (22 of 27) free throw shooting, including 13-of-17 during their comeback in the third quarter.  

Williams had LSU’s lone field goal six minutes into the quarter, a stretch when Ole Miss rallied to grab the lead with four minutes remaining.

Reese’s two free throws were the first points for her team in nearly three minutes and Williams followed with a pivotal steal and pull-up 3-pointer, and Van Lith finished the 9-0 surge, hitting a pull-up in transition for a 61-53 lead at 2:48 mark.

LSU led 63-58 going into the fourth quarter.

“It was physical, but we weathered the storm when they cut into it,” Mulkey said.

With Van Lith sidelined with four fouls, Last-Tear Poa played the last 1:13 of the third quarter and nine minutes of the final quarter, taking a pair of charges on the defensive end in the first two minutes.

After getting outscored 25-17, LSU had the first six points of the final quarter to open a 73-62 lead when Morrow converted a turnover into a layup.

The Tigers went on a 12-2 run, limiting the Rebels to 0-of-5 shooting and a pair of free throws when Reese rebounded her own miss with six minutes to play.

Reese then came with a steal and fed Johnson for a layup and 14-point lead (81-67) with 4:53 to play.

“LSU is a really good team,” Ole Miss coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin said. “I don’t want to see what they are going to look like in March. Their championship residue still seeps out of their veins, and they definitely have a swagger about them that carries them throughout.”

Williams and Johnson each scored seven points during the second quarter, helping LSU outscore Ole Miss 24-14 and the Rebels went 5-of-15 shooting in the quarter.

Van Lith’s four-point play in the final three minutes of play gave LSU its first double-figure lead. She made the first of a two-shot free throw attempt and took an open pass from Reese after an offensive rebound and buried a 3-pointer.

Reese followed by grabbing a loose ball inside and scoring for a 45-34 lead and LSU made its final three shots of the quarter thanks to Williams and Johnson.

A pair of 3-pointers from Williams enabled LSU to start fast with a 14-7 lead over the first four minutes of the game.

Ole Miss, which shot 56.3% in the quarter, made five consecutive shots capped by a 3-pointer from Snudda Collins that tied the game at 16-16.

The game was tied twice in the last 1:48 of play when Van Lith hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer for a 26-23 edge.

“We’re not a polished product but we can the ball,” Mulkey said.  We scored 84 points and really, I didn’t think we had a great game. But when you have five players that all shot about the same amount of shots, and you had five that were in double figures.”

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William Weathers

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