Keeping perspective: LSU’s Kim Mulkey wants No. 9 Tigers to maintain even-keeled approach in home matchup against No. 1 South Carolina

Tigers not only hosting nation's top-ranked team, but will also welcome ESPN's College GameDay

LSU women's basketball coach Kim Mulkey. PHOTO BY: Jonathan Mailhes

LSU women’s basketball coach Kim Mulkey only has to point toward last year’s 24-point loss at South Carolina as an example of her singular focus on this year’s titanic rematch.

The No. 1 Gamecocks proved to be a force the No. 3 Tigers couldn’t reckon with, jumping out to a nine-point halftime lead and handed the visitors, who entered with a 23-0 record, a resounding 88-64 defeat last Super Bowl Sunday.

LSU methodically put all its pieces together for a run that included 11 wins in its last 12 games for the school’s first NCAA national championship over Iowa.

The No. 9 Tigers (18-2, 5-1) encounter the No. 1 Gamecocks (17-0, 5-0) once again where two of the Southeastern Conference’s top programs meet at 7 p.m. Thursday at sold-out Pete Maravich Assembly Center where ESPN’s College GameDay will be on hand.

ESPN will televise the game which will be broadcast locally over 98.1-FM and 107.3-FM.

“It would be a good thing but it’s not going to be the end all,” said Mulkey, whose program is riding a 14-game losing streak to South Carolina, the last two under Mulkey. “If we beat them, life goes on. If we lose, life goes on. There are bigger games down the road for South Carolina and LSU. I view this game as a tremendous challenge, a tremendous opportunity and it is great for LSU because I’ve never had a College GameDay that I’ve been a part of, and I think that’s the coolest thing ever.”

Not only will Mulkey, who’s in her 24th season as a head coach, welcome ESPN’s College GameDay crew who start broadcasting at 6 p.m., but the former All-America point guard at powerhouse Louisiana Tech has watched her 40-plus year association with the game bloom in demands of popularity.

Aside from College GameDay paying its first visit to LSU, demand for tickets have spiked as much as prices with the secondary market asking upwards of $2,373 per ticket in the lower bowl.

“It’s going to be pretty loud,” Mulkey said. “I think the students will be lined up (outside before tipoff). I’m proud we’ve sold-out this arena long ago. I’m proud the tickets are hand to come by and they’re expensive now. I’m proud we’re relevant, defending national champions. Check that off all the lists.”

South Carolina has maintained a staggering regular-season winning streak of 64 games. They’ve done so with a brand-new group of starters with only guard Raven Johnson back from last year’s team that won 36 consecutive games before losing, 77-73, to Iowa in last year’s national semifinals.

The Gamecocks, who have extended their road regular-season winning streak to 27 games, are one of the nation’s top scoring teams (90.8), No. 1 in 3-point percentage (44.1), rebound margin (+15.2) and are the top-rated team in field-goal percentage defense (29.4).

“I look at it as South Carolina has not been beaten,” Mulkey said. “South Carolina is as good in my opinion as they were last year with new players. No one’s seemed to have found a formula to beat them. And we’ll try to do a lot of things that a lot of teams do and that’s try to upset them.

“We’re the underdog. I love underdog roles,” Mulkey said. “I know it’s going to be one heck of an atmosphere. It’s going to be good for us, it’s going to be good for South Carolina. It’s going to be good for the SEC and good for overall women’s basketball.”

South Carolina, which has a nation’s best four wins over ranked teams and has scored 100-plus points five times, are led by 6-foot-7 center Kamilla Cardoso. The Syracuse transfer exploded for a then career-high 18 points and 13 rebounds off the bench in last year’s win over LSU.

Cardoso has 10 double-doubles this season and leads a balanced starting five at 13.3 points, 10.7 rebounds, 61.9 field goal percentage and 2.88 blocked shots. She’s first in the nation in field goal percentage and blocked shots and fourth in rebounding and outdueled LSU’s Angel Reese in last summer’s 2023 FIBA AmericaCup finals, leading Brazil to a gold medal over the United States and winning MVP honors.

The Gamecocks have five players in double figures and feature a bench that’s fourth in the nation with 35 points a game.

“Yes, I like how practice grounds us, like it really does,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said after Sunday’s 99-64 win at Texas A&M. “We don’t know, if the team that sometimes practices the way that they do will show up in games, and they and it does show up in little lapses.”

Oregon transfer guard Te-Hino Paopao is one of the biggest differences in this year’s South Carolina team. Not only is the 5-9 guard averaging 12.5 points, but she’s the nation’s leading 3-point shooting percentage (55.8) and is part of a team averaging 7.2 3-pointers per game.

Freshman guard Milaysia Fulwiley, who shared SEC Freshman of the Week honors with LSU’s Mikaylah Williams, averages 11.7 points, senior guard Bree Hall (11.7, 48.5 3-point percentage) and sophomore forward Chloe Kitts (10.1) follow.

“You just hope they miss some of those because we have our hands full with Cardoso being as tall as she is,” Mulkey said of USC’s 3-point prowess. “We don’t have anybody that can match that size.”

LSU counters USC’s stingy defense with the nation’s highest-scoring offense at 91.7 points per game and has a plus-16 rebound advantage against their opposition.

First team All-America forward Angel Reese is among the SEC’s top scorers (19.9) and rebounders (12.1) and is one of five starters in double figure scoring.

DePaul transfer Aneesah Morrow follows at 18.2 points and 9.7 rebounds, Williams at 16.5 points and 5.1 rebounds, sophomore guard Flau’jae Johnson at 13.2 points, 5.3 rebounds and Louisville transfer Hailey Van Lith at 11.7 points and 3.7 assists.

“It’s just one game, it’s going to be a fun game,” Mulkey said. “It’s going to be a game where you’re going to see some talent on the floor. I’ve always said this in close games, if it should be a close game, I’m not outcoaching Dawn. Dawn’s not going to outcoach me. It’s going to ballers out there making plays and that will be fun for all of us to see.”

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William Weathers

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