Kim Mulkey’s No. 9 LSU Tigers Peaking at Perfect Time, Dismantles Georgia and Clinches Second-Place in SEC

Flau'jae Johnson was one of five LSU starters who scored in double figures as the Tigers' offense exploded in Athens on Thursday night. PHOTO by LSU Athletics

Kim Mulkey, in passing and without batting an eye, called No. 9 LSU a “top team” in the country after whipping Tennessee in Knoxville on Sunday.

But even though that was only LSU’s fifth all-time win ever in Knoxville against the Volunteers, and even though the Tigers easily handled Tennessee, you got the feeling then the best was yet to come.

Truth is, LSU’s win over Tennessee relied heavily on LSU’s much improved defense and, in fact, its offense, aside from Hailey Van Lith’s 26-point breakout performance in that game, was sluggish at best for three quarters against the Lady Vols.

But it was a different story Thursday night in Athens against Georgia.

Oh, LSU’s defense was as solid as ever against Georgia, for sure. It’s becoming a trademark of the Tigers.

LSU’s dominance inside the paint and its control of the boards in terms of both offensive and defensive rebounding, another patented part of a typical Tigers’ game, that was also on display for all 7,000-plus of the largest crowd to attend a Georgia women’s basketball game in years to witness first-hand.

Angel Reese was Angel Reese. She had her 19th double-double of the season, fought back from a tweaking of her ankle late in the first quarter that forced her to the bench for a few minutes, and finished with 17 points and 15 rebounds.

Hailey Van Lith stayed comfortable, hot, and in command offensively, leading LSU in scoring with 18 points while knocking down four 3s, dishing out three assists and only turning over the ball one time.

Mulkey sang Van Lith’s praises, again, mostly applauding her 3-to-1 assist ratio, but you can just tell she loves string music Van Lith’s playing now on a regular basis, the country music aficionado and basketball guru that Mulkey just is, how could she not.

The point is, LSU’s offense was on fire against Georgia on Thursday night in its seventh consecutive victory, an 80-54 lambasting of the Lady Bulldogs. All five LSU starters scored in double figures and during LSU’s only loss of focus late in the third quarter not even a 16-0 Georgia run threatened to make it close.

Well, the Lady Bulldogs kind of threatened to, but Mulkey called a timeout and said she reminded LSU who they were and what they were supposed to be doing – namely, not letting up when they have a 29, 30 or 31-point lead but rather building that lead up more so she can work in the subs at the right time and work on building more depth that the Tigers are likely to need at some point as they begin turning their focus fully onto postseason, a return to the Final Four, the National Championship game, and, though she’s not allowing herself to utter the words, you can almost hear Mulkey humming the tune to herself: another national championship.

And Mulkey ain’t just whistling dixie.

LSU is peaking at just the right time. Even the bracketologists and the revealers, who still have Mulkey’s defending champs a No. 3-seed, according to the latest that came out hours before LSU’s burning down of Georgia commenced, are noting the signs that LSU’s rising at just the right time.

LSU clinched a second-place finish in the Southeastern Conference standings, a bi-product of its victory march through Georgia. Now all LSU has to do is beat Kentucky on Sunday in the regular season finale to claim No. 2 in the SEC for itself.

You get the feeling that’s all part of Mulkey’s plan, too. So, might as well as mark it down.

Thursday night LSU attacked the middle of Georgia’s matchup zone, the focal point of Mulkey’s tactical decimation of the Bulldogs – who had recently given No. 1 and unbeaten South Carolina all it could handle for three-plus quarters. LSU assisted 17 of its 32 field goal makes, scored half of its points in the paint and grabbed 17 offensive rebounds, which the Tigers converted into 23 second-chance points.

Van Lith’s 18 points led the LSU’s offensive assault and it featured the four long-distance bombs, marking the blond bomber’s second consecutive game with four 3s.. Aneesah Morrow scored 16 – including LSU’s first eight points of the game. Morrow also grabbed 10 rebounds, had four steals and two blocks.

Georgia started out making six of its first 13 shots, and stuck around with LSU (25-4, 12-3 SEC) for most of the first quarter. But once the second quarter began the Georgia (12-16, 3-12) started receding. The Bulldogs shot only 29% from the field, turned the ball over eight times and seeming could only watch as LSU whipped the ball around offensively with rhythm and precision and blazed a 22-point halftime lead.

Javyn Nicholson led Georgia with 17 points on 7-13 from the field and five rebounds. Nicholson only scored four points in the first half. Asia Avinger added 10 points with a pair of three pointers. No other Bulldogs reached double figures.

LSU pulled away by outscoring Georgia 21-8 in the second period.

A season highlight occurred as LSU started running away from the Bulldogs, Reese caught a long bullet pass from Mikaylah Williams for an easy layup that gave the Tigers their first 20-point lead at 41-21 late in the first half. Another layup from Reese pushed the halftime advantage to 45-23.

LSU’s biggest lead was 32 points, 56-24, early in the second half. De’Mauri Flournoy sank two 3-pointers in a 16-0 run for the Lady Bulldogs that included the final 14 points of the third period, trimming LSU’s lead to 60-47.

Reese’s 19th double-double of the season combined with Morrow’s 17th double-double to give LSU the SEC’s top two leaders in that statistical category.

Reese began the night leading the SEC with her averages of 19.1 points and 12.9 rebounds after also leading the league in each category last season. The junior All American is set to become only the second player to lead the league in scoring and rebounds in back-to-back seasons, following Vanderbilt’s Wendy Scholtens in 1989 and 1990.

The attendance of 7,406 was Georgia’s largest crowd since 2012.

Led by Reese and Morrow, the Tigers were dominant near the basket all game long, outscoring Georgia 38-8 in points in the paint. Reese’s first-quarter scare when she appeared to turn her right ankle while falling to the court is something to be aware of moving forward. Reese left the game and was still on the bench for the start of the second period before returning but Reese exhibited no sign of injury for the remainder of the game.

LSU is slated to return home for a match up against Kentucky on Sunday at 1 p.m. central inside the PMAC and on the SEC Network. It will be the final contest before the conference tournament that will begin on March 8th in Greenville, SC.

Morrow scored the first six of LSU’s points as the Tigers took a 8-5 lead before the opening timeout. Morrow was 3-3 from the field in the first three minutes of action. After the timeout, Morrow added a couple more and Williams knocked down a triple to force Georgia to call its first 30-second timeout. Avinger made a pair of threes to lead the Bulldogs on a 8-2 run that cut the LSU lead to two. The Tigers extended their lead to 9 before the end of the quarter as Van Lith connected on a three-point buzzer beater, her third straight game with a last-second shot to end a quarter.

After a quick bucket from Georgia, LSU went on an 8-0 run to take a 15-point advantage 4 minutes into the second quarter. Morrow reached double figures with 3:30 minutes to play in the first half. Williams split two defenders in transition to find Reese downcourt for an easy lay that gave the Tigers their first 20 point lead of the night. LSU took a 45-23 lead into the break after the Tigers outscored the Bulldogs 21-8 in the second quarter. Both Reese and Morrow finished the half with 12 points each while the pair combined for 12 of the team’s 22 rebounds.

LSU opened the third period on a 7-0 run to go up by 29 points before the first media timeout just under three minutes into the second half. Late in the third quarter, LSU was unable to score for the final 3:30, while UGA scored 14 unanswered points to make it a 15-point LSU lead heading to the fourth quarter.

Morrow ended the 16-0 Georgia run with a second chance putback to put the Tigers back up by 15 with just over eight minutes left to play.

“I just thought we got sloppy,” Mulkey said.

“I thought we got, I’m trying to use the right word because I don’t wanna take anything away from Georgia, but we were just running, shooting, my turn to shoot, you shoot, you get you one . . . I think it got to the point where I guess we’re just going to show out and try to get some style points.

“We didn’t run anything. That’s not who we are, and the lesson to be learned is they cut the lead because of it. So, give them credit,” she said.

LSU then went on a 9-0 run and held the Bulldogs scoreless for over four minutes.

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