Sun, fun and hoops: No. 7 LSU women’s basketball taking part in Cayman Islands Classic

Mulkey didn't confirm whether the Tigers would be at full strength for holiday trip

LSU freshman Aaliyah Del Rosario (23) powers her way to the basket Monday en route to a career-high 14 points against Texas Southern. PHOTO BY: Michael Bacigalupi

There was one thing for sure LSU women’s basketball coach Kim Mulkey said in advance of her team’s trip to the Cayman Islands, that there would be no interaction with stingrays on one of the team’s planned excursions.

When told of an old wise tale that kissing a stingray would bring her seven years of good luck, Mulkey declined.

“I’m not sure I’ll be close to a stingray,” Mulkey said after Monday’s 106-47 win over Texas Southern. “Could you see me in a swimsuit? I don’t think so, but I’ll look from afar.”

No. 7 LSU will enjoy a mixture of sightseeing and fun, along with basketball, when the Tigers (5-1) play two games in the Cayman Islands Classic.

LSU meets Niagara (2-2) at 12:30 p.m. Friday and Virginia (3-1) at 4 p.m. Saturday. Both games will be streamed by FloHoops and carried locally by 107.3-FM.

“I’m very excited. My family will be there,” LSU point guard Hailey Van Lith said. “I’m a senior, I’ve done the Thanksgiving trips before and they’re just a great time. We get to go to a cool place and LSU takes very good care of us.

“It’s really a time where we can bond as a team and have fun, go to the beach and also play basketball and get things done,” Van Lith said. “We have two great teams we’re going to play there. It will be a great test for us. I’m super excited for the experience, be around my family and my teammates.”

Mulkey didn’t confirm whether first team All-America forward Angel Reese would accompany the team on the trip. The native of Baltimore, Maryland had a streak of 40 consecutive starts come to an end when she wasn’t with the team in their last two wins over Southeastern Louisiana and Texas Southern.

“I’m going to protect my players always. It’s like a family,” Mulkey said of her locker room. “Those kids are like my children and I’m not going to tell what you don’t need to know. That’s the way I address things.”

This marks the third consecutive year Mulkey has taken an LSU team to the Caribbean for basketball over the Thanksgiving holiday.

LSU took part in the San Juan Shootout in Puerto Rico two years ago followed by a trip last season to the Bahamas.

“When you go on trips like this most of us have never been to these places,” Mulkey said. “You’re going to mix a little pleasure with work. A lot of them will get to see their families, myself included. It’s a special time of the year.

“We don’t get to come home and eat with our families. Christmas, you have to work really hard to get some days off at Christmas,” Mulkey said. “That’s our family and we’re going to go to Cayman Islands and celebrate Thanksgiving. We’re going to do fun things and try and win two ballgames.”

LSU’s won its two games without Reese by an average of 41 points.

Freshman Mikaylah Williams leads an offense averaging 97.8 points with a 19.2 average and shooting percentages of 56.3 from two-point range and 56.7 from 3-point land.

LSU sports six players, including Reese’s 17 points, that average in double figures with Sa’Myah Smith (13.7 points, 8.5 rebounds), Aneesah Morrow (13.3, 5.8 rebounds, 23 steals), Flau’jae Johnson (12.0, 63.4 field goal percentage, 5.8 rebounds) and Van Lith (12.0, 28 assists).

Niagara, which faces UCLA on Saturday, is led by 5-foot-9 junior guard Aaliyah Parker (14.7, 5.0 rebounds) and 5-3 sophomore guard Chardonnay Hartley (13.3). The Purple Eagles, who were 18-13 a year ago and took part in in WNIT, average 75 points a game and have another double-digit scorer in 5-9 graduate guard Destiny Strother (11.5 points, 2.2 assists).

Virginia, which opens with Tulane on Friday, enters the event after its first loss of the season to Oklahoma, 82-67. The Cavaliers are led by 6-2 fifth-year senior forward Camryn Taylor (16.8 points, 6.3 rebounds), 5-7 freshman guard Kymora Johnson (12.5 points, 4.5 rebounds) and 5-10 junior guard Jillian Brown (10.8 points, 9.0 rebounds).

“I’m excited to be there and play against good teams,” LSU freshman center Aalyah Del Rosario, who scored a career-high 14 in the win over Texas Southern. “We’re going to do some stuff there as a team and it’s going to build our chemistry even more and make our chemistry even better.”

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