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Preview of Michigan’s Round of 16 matchup against LSU

BATON ROUGE, La. – It’s a chilly Saturday afternoon in Louisiana. The birds are chirping while the sun briefly peeks through the gray clouds and relieves us from the unaccustomed cold.

And within the confines of the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, the Michigan women’s basketball team is still dancing.

After defeating UNLV, 71-59, on Friday, the No. 6 Wolverines meet No. 3 LSU on Sunday and have a chance to advance to their third straight Sweet Sixteen. But that will not be an easy task.

The Tigers, led by head coach Kim Mulkey and second forward Angel Reese, have one of the most impressive squads in the country, losing just one game in their entire regular season before losing to Tennessee in the semifinals of the SEC Tournament. To avoid a second-round elimination tomorrow, Michigan must thwart LSU’s attack while avoiding the recurring errors that have plagued the Wolverines in recent bouts against top-tier opponents.

familiar faces

Michigan has only played LSU once since Kim Barnes Arico took over as head coach in 2012 — a 64-62 loss in 2013 — but the Tigers have feel like a familiar enemy, partly because of Mulkey.

Prior to her tenure at LSU, Mulkey spent 21 seasons as Baylor’s coach. During that time, she knocked Michigan out of the NCAA tournament twice: in 2018 in the second round and most recently in 2021 in the Sweet Sixteen.

“We’ve played them a few times in the last five years,” Barnes Arico said after Sunday’s NCAA Tournament Selection Show. “Someone has to like the Kims together because they always have us in the same group as them. … I’ve told my husband that it feels like we spend every Easter holiday with Mulkey.”

This time around, the Wolverines will try to finally get past a Mulkey-led team. But first and foremost, that means stopping Reese, the LSU first-team All American, who is averaging a whopping 23.4 points and 15.5 rebounds per game. Slowing them down will be the challenge of the game for Michigan, who also faced Reese during her two seasons at the University of Maryland.

Reese played two seasons with the Terrapins before going to Baton Rouge but missed most of her freshman year through injury. In a regular season matchup against Maryland last season, the Wolverines’ ability to knock out Reese paved the way to victory. While the goal of repeating that feat is lofty, it could be the deciding factor in tomorrow’s game.

The LSU game

For Michigan, Baton Rouge’s victorious exit revolves around strong performances by its own top players. Graduate forward Emily Kiser, who hit game high with 18 points against the Rebels, has to keep up with Reese indoors. Against the smaller and faster Tigers, the Wolverines’ size will again be an advantage, but it could prove difficult to keep up.

“Your speed and athleticism will definitely be a challenge for us tomorrow,” said Kiser on Saturday.

Big plays from the Wolverines’ top scorers — including fifth-year winger Leigha Brown and senior guard Maddie Nolan — seem a necessity to meet this challenge and keep up with the high-scoring Tigers: LSU is averaging nearly 84 points per Game the season, a mark Michigan hasn’t reached since Jan. 7.

It’s a goal the Wolverines have been preparing for.

“There was a lot of energy and intensity here,” Brown told The Daily. “Especially in the last four days we had to scout UNLV. It was really important to capture and tweak some things that we really couldn’t capture during the regular season.”

In Friday’s game against the Rebels, Michigan appeared to be fine-tuned, but Sunday will see another key element in the competition: the environment. The Tigers play on their home field, which drew nearly 9,000 fans for Friday’s win over No. 14 Hawaii.

An escape from this difficult environment would mean a third consecutive Sweet Sixteen finish for the Wolverines. All standing in the way is Mulkey, Reese and a fast, scoring LSU.