Kim Mulkey expects Last-Tear Poa to play Friday as defending champion LSU begins NCAA Tournament Healthy, Hungry and Peaking

Kim Mulkey at LSU practice on eve of 2024 NCAA Tournament

No. 3 seed LSU, the defending National Champion, will begin its quest at the NCAA Tournament on Friday in the PMAC at 3 p.m. CT against No. 14 seed Rice on ESPN.

Rice vs LSU will air on ESPN with Dave O’Brien and Christy Thomaskutty. Patrick Wright and Shaeeta Williams will call the game on the LSU Sports Radio Network, 100.7 FM in Baton Rouge.

Louisville and Middle Tennessee State will face off against each other Friday at 12:30 p.m. on ESPN2 in the PMAC. The winner of that game will face the winner of LSU-Rice on Sunday. The game time for Sunday will not be announced until all NCAA Tournament games have been completed Friday evening.

Kim Mulkey

LSU is a No. 3 seed for the third straight year under Coach Kim Mulkey. Last year LSU became the third No. 3 seed ever to claim the National Championship. It marked Mulkey’s fourth national title and first at LSU. She became the second coach, joining Carolina Peck at Purdue, to win a championship in her second season at a school. Mulkey and Pat Summitt are the only two coaches to win the tournament as a No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 seed. Mulkey is also the only coach – men’s or women’s – credited with a championship at two school.

“I think I’ve said all along we can score the ball, but against good defensive teams, you’ve got to be able to defend too,” Mulkey said. “And I think we’ve learned from some of the losses we’ve had this year, there are other teams out there that can play. There’re other teams out there that can defend. And when you meet those teams, you better be able to match that defensive intensity.”

LSU enters the tournament playing its best basketball, specifically on the defensive side of the ball. The Tigers have won 10 of their past 11 games since dropping two in a row against No. 1 South Carolina and at Mississippi State in late January. LSU was undermanned, but battled against South Carolina in the SEC Championship, losing by seven.

But LSU enters the tournament fully healthy after a two-week break since the SEC Tournament.

Last-Tear Poa, who suffered a concussion in the SEC semifinals against Ole Miss, has cleared concussion protocol and has participated in LSU’s past two practices. Mulkey said on Thursday that she expects Poa to play Friday against Rice.

A healthy Poa allows Hailey Van Lith to play more shooting guard in her natural position. Van Lith will start at the point position but slides over to the off-guard when Poa comes in the game. Those two along with Mikaylah Williams, the SEC Freshman of the Year, and Flau’Jae Johnson, a second-team All-SEC player, give LSU options at the guard position. Johnson, Van Lith and Williams all have shown the capability to score 20 points in any game.

LSU practice clip from Thursday afternoon.

In the post, LSU has two of the most dominant players in the nation in Aneesah Morrow and Angel Reese. They were both included on both the USBWA and AP All-America Teams.

Reese has recorded 23 double-doubles this season, including 12 straight. This is her third double-double streak of at least 10 games while at LSU. Morrow has 20 double-doubles on the season to give the tandem a combined 43 on the year. Morrow and Reese have recorded double-doubles in the same game 13 times.

“I also think you have to have good guard play,” Mulkey explained. “As good as Angel is and as good as Morrow and all those guys, they’re really reliant on guard play. And guards have to get them the ball when they rebound the ball, the guards have to bring it up the floor. So I think you have to have good guard play in order for your team to go far.”

Lindsay Edmonds is in her third season leading the Rice Owls and earlier this season she became the quickest Rice coach to reach 50 wins, doing so in 81 games. Rice had lost five straight games to end the regular season but got hot and won four games in four days to claim the AAC Tournament championship during its first year in the league, earning an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The bench scored 50 points in the AAC Championship for the Owls to defeat East Carolina, 61-41. Sussy Ngulefac had 15 points and 11 rebounds while Emily Klaczek added 14 points with four made threes in the championship game.

“We certainly watched the four games of the tournament,” Mulkey said. “I’m very familiar with Rice’s coaching staff. Two of my former managers at Baylor are assistant coaches for them. So they’re going to know a lot more about my philosophy and things we do probably than I will what they do.”

For the season, Malia Fisher has led Rice with 13.1 points and 7.0 assists per game. The Owls score 67 points per game and allow 63 points per game. This year marks Rice’s fourth trip ever to the NCAA Tournament and the first since 2019.

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Tiger Rag News Services

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