No. 8 LSU Puts Its Team Toughness on Display, Forces Rematch with No. 1 South Carolina in SEC Championship

Aneesah Morrow had 12 points and 12 rebounds as LSU put away Ole Miss late to advance to the SEC Championship game and a much anticipated rematch with unbeaten and No. 1 South Carolina on Sunday. PHOTO by LSU Athletics

LSU Associate Head Coach Bob Starkey’s voice broke and he sounded like he was losing the battle to hold back tears immediately after the game as he spoke to the voice of the Lady Tigers Patrick Wright.

“The whole day was a testament to our toughness . . . We showed some toughness today. The team dedicated that last five minutes to Poa,” Starkey said.

Sophomore Flau’jae Johnson scored 21 points, Angel Reese had 21 points and 17 rebounds as No. 8 LSU reached its first Southeastern Conference Tournament Championship game since 2012 with a 75-67 victory over Ole Miss on Saturday night.

LSU (28-4) will face unbeaten regular-season champion No. 1 South Carolina in Sunday’s final.

LSU had a scary moment in the fourth quarter when guard Last-Tear Poa fell hard beneath the basket. She was taken off the court on a stretcher.

ESPN reported Poa was taken to St. Francis Hospital for further evaluation.

“As I was walking to this press conference, the trainer told me the CT scan came back clean so that’s wonderful news,” Coach Kim Mulkey said. “I spoke to her mother, of course she’s from Australia.

“She was just a little bit unresponsive is how I would describe it. She could squeeze your hand lightly. She could tell you she could feel her legs. But she couldn’t really articulate good enough for you not to be afraid. The kids were right there and they saw it all.”

“We were just trying to keep the team together as much as possible because Poa would want us to stay together,” Angel Reese said. “Poa would want us to play hard and do this for her and win this game and play tough. She is one of the toughest players on our team so being to fight for her; we hit a couple tough shots and kept saying, that’s for Poa, that’s for Poa.”

LSU held a six point lead when Poa went down and came together to finish the game victorious. 

“Honestly, I don’t give a damn about the game at that point,” Coach Mulkey said. “I really don’t. That’s somebody’s child. That’s my player and those are my players in that huddle. When I got to the huddle it was bad. It was just very, very emotional. I think Angel spoke up. I think Hailey (Van Lith) spoke up saying, ‘we’ve gotta get through this. We’ve got to finish the game.’ They dug deep. It was one of the more gutsy performances of a team I’ve ever coached.”

The Tigers have won the SEC Tournament championship twice, most recently in 2003.

Johnson and Reese led LSU down the stretch as the Tigers broke away from Ole Miss (22-8) in the final period after the Rebels had cut an 11-point deficit to 52-51 late in the third quarter.

Reese scored LSU’s next six points, including a three-point play. She then stole the ball for a breakaway layup and shook her head, shouting in celebration as LSU stretched the lead to 62-53.

Ole Miss (22-8) got no closer than five points the rest of the way.

Aneesah Morrow had 12 points and 12 rebounds for LSU.

LSU did not have the faststart it had in the quarterfinals — the Tigers led Auburn 23-0 on the way to a blowout victory — but Reese, Morrow and Johnson had more than enough to open a double-digit lead on the Rebels.

Johnson’s 3-pointer with 2:23 to go before halftime had LSU ahead 34-23.

Madison Scott, who was 5-of-10 shooting the first 20 minutes, provided the most of the offense for the Rebels, who struggled to make shots against LSU’s defense. Aside from Scott, the rest of the team hit just five field goals.

Ole Miss found some offensive rhythm in the third quarter and used an 8-2 run to draw within a point on Marquesha Davis’ bucket when she was fouled with less than a minute left in the third quarter. Davis had the chance to tie things, but missed the free throw and LSU took control from there.

Scott led Ole Miss with 22 points while Davis finished with 21.

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