BATON ROUGE, La. – LSU coach Kim Mulkey’s admiration for the effort Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico puts out of her players was summed up in a short video clip that Mulkey thought the Tigers needed to see.
Michigan guard Leigha Brown’s jump attempt to catch a loose ball on the hardwood as the Wolverines triumphed in the first round of the women’s NCAA tournament over UNLV meant nothing on the stat sheet; Brown couldn’t stop the ball from rolling wide.
But it meant a lot to Mulkey and Barnes Arico as they braced Sunday night for a second-round tilt between LSU (29-2) and sixth-round Michigan (23-9) in the second round — a game that reckoned could be posed as “Kim vs. Kim III.”
“I’m glad they saw, and the rest of the world saw, that our team is willing to sell themselves and make sacrifices and make those kinds of plays because we think it could make all the difference” , Barnes Arico said after learning Mulkey highlighted Brown’s jump while LSU reviewed video of game action in Michigan. “LSU and Kim coached teams will play the same way. And our children will know that. And they will be aware of that.”
LSU guard Alexis Morris got the message as Mulkey played the Brown clip.
“We know we just have to be tough on Sunday,” said Morris. “We’ve got to get those 50-50 balls — you know, do the dirty work that people don’t like to do.”
Barnes Arico knows what it’s like to compete against Mulkey because she’s already done so twice in the last four NCAA tournaments — in 2018 and 2021 when Mulkey was at Baylor.
Michigan head coach Kim Barnes Arico reacts during the first half of a first round college basketball game against UNLV at the women’s NCAA tournament in Baton Rouge, La., Friday March 17, 2023 Credit: AP/Matthew Hinton
Baylor won the first of those meetings in the second round, 80-58. Their third-round meeting in 2021 went into overtime before the Bears emerged with a 78-75 victory.
Several senior Michigan executives — Brown, Emily Kiser and Maddie Nolan — played at that 2021 gathering, and Brown recalled Mulkey complimenting the Wolverines on how hard they had played.
“It really meant a lot to us, and I know it definitely means a lot to the Arico coach,” Brown said. “I know there is a mutual respect.”
Mulkey summed up her appreciation for Barnes Arico: “She’s one of the good guys. Good trainer. good person A good mother. good wife I hate that we have to play against each other.”
Michigan guard Leigha Brown (32) celebrates a 3-point basket from forward Emily Kiser (33) in the first half of a first round college basketball game against UNLV at the women’s NCAA tournament in Baton Rouge, La., Friday, Jan March , 2023, Credit: AP/Matthew Hinton
Much of LSU’s success this season has come from the prolific play of 6-foot-3 All-America power forward Angel Reese, whose combination of size, speed and ball skills makes her one of the most dynamic players in the nation.
Her 34 points — tying Marie Ferdinand’s 2001 LSU record for goals in an NCAA tournament game — and 15 rebounds led LSU to a 73-50 first-round win over Hawaii.
However, Reese emphasized that their chemistry with 6-4 center LaDazhia Williams — whose quiet demeanor contrasts with that of the outspoken and punchy Reese — is a key element in LSU’s usual dominance of the color.
“People underestimate LaDazhia’s abilities because the light often shines on me,” Reese said. “But I mean she’s very successful and does a lot of great things that people don’t see.”
Reese, a transfer from Maryland, and Williams, who transferred from Missouri, said they spent a lot of time last summer developing chemistry by playing pick-up basketball.
“We know how to toss the ball to each other,” Reese said. “We know how to give each other good shots.”
Barnes-Arico laughed when asked if she had an outfit planned for the matchup against Mulkey, who is known for wearing heels and flashy outfits.
“Oh my god,” Barnes Arico began. “I can’t keep up this pace. I don’t know how she does it.”
During Friday’s first round games, Mulkey wore a white top with glitter-laden, multicolored embellishments. The front of the bodice read “Kiss me, I’m a Queen,” which Mulkey clarified was not referring to her, but to the name of the company (Queen of Sparkles) that made the outfit.
Barnes Arico wore a navy blue crew neck with Michigan’s trademark “M” on the chest and corn pants with comfortable shoes (Jordan Brand).
Barnes Arico used to wear heels and dressed more for games.
“And then COVID hit and I was like, ‘Oh my god, my feet feel so good and my legs don’t scream at the end of the night. I don’t wake up with calf pain anymore,’” recalled Barnes Arico.
But she conceded that she had “something special” planned for the second-round match.
“I won’t be Kim. Nobody is Kim. I’m the other Kim,” she continued. “But nobody is Mulkey. So she has her own look and it works for her.”