With just over a minute on the clock, Kim Mulkey’s emotions were too great to contain.
She didn’t know if it was looking across the floor at her grandchildren or the bear hug she was giving Flau’jae Johnson.
Or for the Tickfaw, Louisiana native, it could have been that she had just won a national championship in her sophomore season at LSU.
Whatever it was, the moment it hit, she lost it.
“It really doesn’t look like me,” Mulkey said. “That should tell you what I think about it.”
She then thought back to her inaugural press conference less than two calendar years ago, when athletic director Scott Woodward introduced her as LSU’s head coach. It was unprecedented — leaving a multi-year power to take over a program that went 9-13 the year before — but Mulkey made a promise on her first day at Baton Rouge.
“When I got hired, I made a statement and asked everyone to turn around and look at those Final Four banners,” Mulkey said. “Nowhere did it say national champion. I’m relieved because I don’t have to think about it anymore.”
She sat in front of reporters, with the national championship trophy at her side, and shook her head in disbelief. Not because she kept her word, but because it happened so quickly.
But it wasn’t until she looked around the arena and saw the pure joy on the faces of LSU fans across American Airlines Arena that she remembered the real reason she was coming home.
A promise made, a promise kept.
“The tears are tears of joy,” Mulkey said. “I’m so happy for everyone back home in Louisiana.”
Throughout the year this team has remained true to what it is. Ruthlessly authentic. Extraordinarily confident. Talking the talk and walking the walk.
That sparkles on their head coach. The personalities of their stars. The swagger of their newcomers. It’s only fitting that a season of lightning bolts ends with the most eye-catching item of all: a ring.
“All year I’ve been criticized for who I was,” Angel Reese said. “I don’t fit into the narrative. I don’t fit into the box you want me to be in. This was for the girls who look like me, speaking up for what they believe in and being uncompromisingly themselves.”
Some coaches are afraid of personality. Not Mulkey. She was one herself. But one of many distinguishes LSU’s personalities: They’re trainable. They tell you how they feel and ask for constructive criticism in return. It’s a rare mix. A masterful mix.
“We have a locker room full of kids who like tough love,” Mulkey said. “They will tell you if you feel. You’ll talk rubbish on the floor. You have to be a very strong coach to coach so many personalities. And I say that to not pat myself on the back, but I have no problem looking them in the face.”
ISSA PARADE WITHIN MY TOWN pic.twitter.com/C73EyhR5YS
— LSU Women’s Basketball (@LSUwbkb) April 2, 2023
Some stories sound too good to be true. For these 2022-23 Tigers, the narrative is something Hollywould not even be able to write. It starts with their mantra: “Piece It Together”. Nine new plays (four freshmen and five transfers) and only one returning contributor in Alexis Morris.
Each piece as important as the other to complete the puzzle. The starters as important as the supporting cast. No better example than graduate transfer guard Jasmine Carson, who saw that Iowa wasn’t guarding the perimeter and took it personally. She is a marksman and shooters shoot.
With her first seven (!) shots from the field and 22 points at the end, Carson doubled her total of points in the entire tournament in the first half alone on Sunday. This is a shining moment.
“I would definitely say this is the best game of my life, winning a national championship on the biggest possible stage,” Carson said. “I scored tonight and that pushed us and gave us momentum.”
It was also players like LaDazhia Williams, Last-Tear Poa and Sa’Myah Smith who propelled LSU over the top. In fact, Mulkey didn’t mince words about her impact. Speaking to a full campus crowd on Monday, she said, “These young ladies won our national championship for us.”
Defying the odds became commonplace for these girls, and no one has defied adversity more than Alexis Morris. No story in women’s basketball embodies endurance more. Sure, the trip wasn’t quite what she had planned, but the destination was in the stars. national champion.
“This is a kid who admitted his mistake,” Mulkey said. “This is a boy who never blamed a coach. And you wonder why a coach takes a kid like that back? This is a valuable lesson for all of us as parents. And look at where she’s sitting today. What a remarkable story.”
In its home state of Texas, this story saved the best for last and came full circle. No one took Lex’s moment by scoring or assisting for LSU’s 27 second-half points. She could smell it. She could taste it. That’s when Alexis Morris turned into Lex Luthor.
But while most will remember Morris for her offensive shooting, it was her defense that was most impressive and included two of the country’s top scorers in Virginia Tech’s Georgia Amoore and Iowa’s Caitlin Clark.
“She’s guarded two of the best our game has to offer,” Mulkey said.
Better make room for a national championship banner. pic.twitter.com/OixFQninuL
— LSU Women’s Basketball (@LSUwbkb) April 3, 2023
When the Tigers returned home from Dallas, they were greeted by a PMAC crowd that delivered all season.
Every piece – from the athletics to the administration to the coaches and players – led to the completion of a perfect puzzle.
It’s those plays that allowed Mulkey to win LSU’s first-ever basketball championship in her second season at Baton Rouge.
And on Wednesday the celebration continues as it will actually be a parade in our city.