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Why it’s hard to root for LSU

Six months ago, Kim Mulkey was, for a brief period, the most criticized figure in the women’s basketball community. Somehow, we’ve forgotten about that.

Miami v LSU
Kim Mulkey
Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

LSU earned a No. 6 seed in our hypothetical bracket in 2020, but hadn’t been to the Sweet Sixteen since 2014 at the time Kim Mulkey took over for Nikki Fargas prior to the 2021-22 season. It was a homecoming for Mulkey. For LSU, it was a chance to build the type of program Mulkey built at Baylor in Baton Rouge. Mulkey led the Bears to three national championships (2005, 2012 and 2019), four Final Fours, 10 Elite Eights, 15 Sweet Sixteens and 19 NCAA Tournaments out of 20 opportunities (one year the tournament was canceled).

The Tigers were 9-13 (6-8 SEC) and missed the tournament the year before Mulkey took over. In 2021-22, they returned leading scorer and distributor Khayla Pointer and second-leading scorer/leading rebounder Faustine Aifuwa and brought in Texas A&M transfer Alexis Morris. National media was split on whether that core plus Mulkey would find success right away.

Then the Tigers lost their second game of the season, 88-74, to fellow eventual second-round team FGCU. Doubters said “See? Mulkey isn’t enough to turn that program around overnight.”

LSU would respond by winning its next 13 games, including three over ranked opponents. The Tigers wound up earning a No. 3 seed in the Big Dance. But they only won by six in the first round before suffering a surprising 15-point loss to Ohio State in the second round.

There were many successful moments for LSU that season, but with the way it began and ended, the narrative was that Mulkey didn’t have the magic touch in her first year back in her home state.

But Final Fours don’t grow on trees and with LSU being at that point right now in 2022-23, the feeling has gone from disappointment to a feeling that Mulkey has packed five years or so of success into two. If the Tigers win the national championship, imagine how that would add to Mulkey’s legacy. A fourth title, and in her second year at a new school no less.

But is it a good thing that Mulkey is inching closer to Pat Summitt and Geno Auriemma with her history of discomfort around the topic of homosexuality, discouragement of her players coming out and an odd way of supporting Brittney Griner during Griner’s detainment in Russia? Is she the kind of coach we want to shine the spotlight on, especially when the alternatives are as great as Dawn Staley, Kenny Brooks and Lisa Bluder?

Instead, shouldn’t we take a look at the players, including Griner, who now regret playing for Mulkey?

Here’s how Queen Egbo and Chloe Jackson responded to Mulkey’s silence on Griner’s detainment:

It seems Mulkey’s silence on Griner’s detainment was a last straw, and good for Egbo and Jackson for standing up to her. It begs the question why Mulkey’s 2022-23 LSU players haven’t spoken up when they are young women at the forefront of progressive society. Angel Reese certainly fits that description, yet continues to hype up Mulkey.

Reese is of course the main reason LSU was able to go from second-round exit to the Final Four in just one season. I started calling her Pac-Man when she was at Maryland, probably prematurely because her stats weren’t quite as eye-popping as they are now. But I saw the ease with which she operated in the paint and put the ball in the basket. Now she truly is Pac-Man, gobbling up points and rebounds to the point where 20/20 games are a cinch for her. I truly believe that with Reese and Morris playing at their best, LSU has a chance to win the whole thing.

But if LSU does win the whole thing, let’s not get caught up in the moment and praise Mulkey.

To read Cat Ariail’s similar feature on Mulkey prior to the 2019 Final Four, click here.