Start of something good: Coach of No. 7 LSU, Kim Mulkey, eager to tip off SEC play with Missouri

School touts 'Dress like Kim Mulkey' promotion for game

Kim Mulkey continues to look in the transfer portal after Hailey Van Lith transferred to TCU. PHOTO BY: Jonathan Mailhes

LSU women’s basketball coach Kim Mulkey’s not overly enamored with Thursday’s promotion for the Tigers’ Southeastern Conference opener with Missouri.

The game, which is scheduled for 8 p.m. on The SEC Network and will be carried locally by 107.3-FM, will give fans the opportunity to dress like Mulkey and a chance to win one of Mulkey’s game-work shimmering jackets.

“That’s a scary ass thought,” Mulkey said during Wednesday’s press conference for the game. “I’m not in charge of marketing. If I would have known I probably would have said no, we’re not doing that, do something for the kids. They didn’t ask me my opinion. They better have lot of wrinkles, lots of gray hair and I guess sequins.”

No. 7 LSU (13-1) takes a 13-game winning streak into the start of league play where the Tigers have been runners-up to South Carolina the past two years under Mulkey.

Unlike in previous years, the Tigers haven’t had to endure the type of personnel challenges where first team All-America forward Angel Reese missed four games because of undisclosed reasons. Sophomore forward Sa’Myah Smith suffered a season-ending knee injury on Nov. 24, junior guard Kateri Pool was officially dismissed from the team and starting point guard Hailey Van Lith returned last Saturday against Jacksonville from a four-game absence because of a foot injury.

“If I had everybody together for long period of time, and not all of the disruptions from injuries to being away the team, I would feel a lot better,” Mulkey said. “Right now, we’ve only had Hailey back for one game. We’re trying to figure it out, but you can’t rush that. Is it the perfect scenario to start conference? No. It is what we’ve had to deal with, but I just see us in practice just getting a little bit better.

“We’re not the only team in the country that has had to deal with issues and deal with injuries,” Mulkey added. “The thing that impressed me with this bunch is they kept winning. They kept finding ways to compete and win. I go back to that (Nov. 25) Virginia game. That was a game (a 76-73 victory) that set up for us to lose and we had every excuse in the world to lose, but we didn’t. That was the game (Aneesah) Morrow really shined and really led us. Her game has taken off.”

LSU leads the nation in scoring (95.07), steals per game (13.36), free throws attempted per game (31.7), free throws made per game (23.5) and is second in scoring margin (36.43). The Tigers are first in the SEC in turnover margin (+8.93) and second in field goal percentage (50.1), rebound margin (17.43) and blocked shots per game (6.36).

“Just the attempts is impressive to me,” said Mulkey, whose team shoots 74.32% at the free throw line compared to 69.6% last season. “I’ve always said, if you could shoot around 70% from the foul line, you’re going to win a lot of games. If you’re not getting to the foul line enough that 70% doesn’t mean a whole lot. I saw where we’re getting to the foul line a whole lot and that’s impressive.”

It had been since an 83-53 home win over UL-Lafayette since LSU was last at full strength with Van Lith in the starting lineup in Saturday’s 110-68 blowout of Jacksonville.

Mulkey has compensated and expanded her rotation at times to as many as 10 players. Junior guard Last-Tear Poa filled in for Van Lith, freshman center Aalayah Del Rosario has moved into the team’s sixth-man role for Smith with junior Amani Bartlett, and freshmen Janae Kent and Angelica Velez, all getting playing time ranging from 6 to 14 minutes a game.

Reese, who has not played in at least 75% of her games to qualify among the SEC leaders, is LSU’s top scorer (19.6) and rebounder (11.0) to go with 54.9% shooting from the field.

She’s one of the team’s four double-figures scorers along with DePaul junior forward Morrow at 18.43 points (third in SEC), 9.5 rebounds (8th in the SEC), and is third in the SEC in steals per game (2.86) and fourth in free throw percentage (83.6%). Freshman Makaylah Williams is fifth in the SEC in scoring (18.43) and seventh in shooting (52%), while sophomore guard Flau’jae Johnson averages 17.1 points, shoots 50.4% from the floor and ranks fourth in steals per game (2.77) and seventh in free throw shooting (78.6%) and Van Lith averages 12.1 points and 5.0 assists.

Poa averages 7.6 points, 3.9 assists and is third in the SEC in free throw shooting (87.5%).

Missouri (9-4) has won its last two games under 14th year coach Robin Pingeton. The Tigers are averaging 78.8 points and have the second-highest amount of 3-pointers made in the SEC at 117. They are second in the league in 3-pointers per game (9.0), ranking them 29th nationally.

“Their style of play is pretty much the same,” Mulkey said of Missouri’s perimeter-oriented attack. “It’s not easy to defend out there. We’ve got our hands full. We’ve always had decent games with Missouri. It’s the first (SEC) game. Everybody’s excited, I imagine Missouri’s excited as well. We’re not going to change who we are. We’re not going to put a bunch of guards to guard on the perimeter. You’re going to have to bow your neck and get out there are guard people.”

Six-foot-two graduate forward Hayley Franks, who has scored in double figures 11 of 13 games, tops Missouri with a 16.2 scoring average for seventh in the SEC. She also ranks 13th in rebounds (7.4), has made a team-high 27 3’s and is the school’s sixth all-time leading scorer. Sophomore guard Ashton Todd, who has four double-doubles, is next at 14.4 points and 6.7 rebounds, and 6-0 freshman guard Grace Slaughter averages 11.3 points and 3.8 rebounds.

“We’ve really not had all of our pieces out there for 14 games,” Mulkey said. “Did we do what we needed to do? Yes. After the Colorado game, we took care of business and some of the games were not pretty. We did what we needed to do to win games. We want to win 90% of our non-conference games and we did that. Now we flush that. It was an opportunity for a lot of people to get minutes. We had games with wide margins of victory. Now we’ll see if some of those players that got to play in those games will be able to produce for us in these SEC games. You hope so.”

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William Weathers

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