Kim Mulkey’s halftime changes and Angel Reese’s dominance spark LSU’s comeback win over Alabama

Angel Reese is projected to be taken outside of the top five picks in this year's WNBA draft. PHOTO BY: Michael Bacigalupi

No. 13 LSU struggled in the first half against Alabama. It looked like it was on its way to dropping its fifth game of the season.

Then, everything changed when head coach Kim Mulkey switched things up at halftime and Last-Tear Poa and Angel Reese inspired LSU to a come from behind, 85-66 win.

LSU (21-4, 8-3 SEC) got off to a slow start and found itself trailing 9-4 after three Alabama (19-7, 6-5 SEC) three-pointers in the first few minutes of the first quarter. Alabama’s shooting would stay hot the entire first quarter and the Tide would score six first-half threes.

By the end of the first quarter, Alabama built a 23-14 lead and was shooting 50% from three.

Aneesah Morrow wouldn’t score her first field goal until 8:35 remained in the second quarter. Reese would secure her 15th double-double of the season in the second quarter, but that was about all the good news there was for the Tigers in the first half. Alabama would establish an 11-point lead after a Sarah Ashlee Barker three with 4:14 left in the half.

The Tide would end the second quarter up 41-31 on LSU with eight threes in the first half. It was the largest halftime deficit the Tigers had faced all season.

But then, Mulkey made her halftime adjustments and the entire game changed. Poa started the second half over Hailey Van Lith and the Tigers came out utilizing a full-court press.

“Today is Sunday so [the halftime talk] was kind of like a prayer meeting,” Mulkey said.

The changes inspired LSU to turn the game around and it was all over Alabama in the third quarter. Poa’s defense was a crucial part of the turnaround, and the Tide couldn’t get anything past the relentless press from Mulkey’s squad.

“[Poa] really is the best protector we have on the team, so that got her on the floor quickly,” Mulkey said. “She stayed on the floor because she did other things besides that.”

Reese would give LSU its first lead 43-42 since early in the first quarter with 6:21 remaining in the third quarter. LSU outscored Alabama 30-9 in the third quarter on its way to turning a 10-point deficit into an 11-point lead.

The turnaround was similar to the first meeting between the two teams. Alabama took a lead into halftime in the first matchup back in January before a third quarter eruption helped LSU pull away in that game. LSU has now outscored the Tide 54-19 in third quarters this season.

LSU continued to grow its lead in the fourth quarter and had established a 22-point lead with 5:06 left in the game. LSU would eventually end the game with a 19-point victory over Alabama.

It was a completely different team in the second half. In the first half, LSU was shooting just 31% from the field. Despite the slow start, LSU would end the game shooting 42.3% from the field.

“I got to give kudos to Alabama,” Reese said after the game. “They’re a great team on the road and I think they came out and made a lot of shots and we had to adjust at halftime. We were down by 10, and then I think we just dominated the second half. It started with our defense and then, of course, getting our crowd into it. The students, they came out tonight knowing we don’t have school for Monday and Tuesday. They still stayed the weekend and came out to support us.”

Reese and Poa were the stars of the comeback as both players put in significant work on both ends of the court. Reese finished the game 27 points, 19 rebounds and six assists. Poa added 11 points, six rebounds and four assists. It was the most points Poa had scored in a game this season.

Poa’s defensive contributions and tireless press helped suffocate Alabama’s offense. Mulkey said after the game that Poa started the second half because LSU needed her for the full-court press. Overall, LSU outscored Alabama 54-25 in the second half.

“Poa has just accepted her role at any place that she is at,” Reese said. “Having an unselfish player like that on your team is something that you’ll always want.”

Morrow scored her 2,000th career point in the third quarter and finished with nine points along with eight rebound and five steals. Flau’Jae Johnson had 16 points. Mikaylah Williams finished with 14 points and nine rebounds. Van Lith had six points while shooting 2-for-6 from the field.

Aaliyah Nye led Alabama with 19 points and the Tide made 14 three pointers while shooting 34.9% from three.

LSU outrebounded the Tide 54-34 and had 21 offensive rebounds. LSU completely dominated inside and outscored Alabama 50-8 in the paint.

“You want to peak at the right time of the year,” Mulkey said. “You don’t want to get flat. You don’t want to be burned out. You want to peak at the right time of the year. I thought it was gut-check time really for us in the second half. I thought [the comeback] took leadership. I thought it took, obviously skill, but it took a lot of effort to get back into that ball game and to do it quick enough to where you could extend the lead.”

Mulkey has now won at least 21 games in every season of her coaching career. The streak stretches back to her first season at Baylor during the 2000-01 season.

Up next, LSU will go on the road to take on Texas A&M. That game is scheduled to start at 6 p.m. from Reed Arena.

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Will Nickel

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