LSU Gold

Year Two

LSU is headed to its first Final Four since 2008 in Kim Mulkey's second season in Baton Rouge

by Harrison Valentine | Digital Media Graduate Assistant
Year Two

Kim Mulkey wants things done quick.

In fact, she wants them done yesterday.

But when she was hired – leaving a perennial power to return home to Louisiana – she took the podium and used a word that doesn’t normally enter her vocabulary.

“Be patient,” she told LSU fans at her introductory press conference. “Understand, it will not happen overnight.” 

For most programs in the midst of a rebuild, patience means to wait. For Mulkey, it meant less than two calendar years before she was cutting down another net.

“It will hit me tonight when we’re on that plane going back to Baton Rouge and I’m sitting with my feet propped up tomorrow eating crawfish,” Mulkey said.

Unfortunately, Mulkey won’t have much time to prop her feet up. She has packing to do. LSU is headed to Dallas for its first Final Four since 2008 after a 54-42 win over Miami on Sunday night at Bon Secours Arena. It wasn’t pretty, but nothing about March is. The show goes on.

The story, which continues to write itself, goes on too. Nine new pieces. Five new transfers. And a head coach in her second season. Piecing it together has been LSU’s mantra all year long, and as the Tigers advance deeper into March, more pieces of the puzzle fall into place.

“Coach didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into,” said sophomore forward Angel Reese. “We had nine new pieces. This is Year 2 for her. Being able to be the underdogs all year – and we played that role. Now to be in this moment, it’s so joyful and exciting.”

Mulkey was joyful for different reasons. It wasn’t because of the net around her neck, or the Final Four she gets to add to her resume. She has enough of those to collect dust. Her happiness was for the people of Louisiana, the LSU fans and the players she gets to coach, who get to share in that feeling together.

“I just wanted to come back to the state of Louisiana and come home,” Mulkey said. ”What really makes me smile is not cutting that net down, but looking around at those LSU people, looking at those players I get to coach, getting to experience this for the first time.”

One of those players is Alexis Morristhe fifth-year senior who, at one point, considered never playing basketball again. Through all the adversity and setbacks faced, Morris says she can finally let that all go. As the regional championship trophy was lifted above her head, a proverbial weight was lifted off her shoulders in return.

Perseverance personified.

“At one point, when I left Rutgers, I wasn’t even going to play basketball anymore,” Morris said. “This moment is literally everything to me. I went through so much adversity. Now I can let it all go. I beat the odds.”

Defying the odds has been routine with this group, and it starts with Lex. In her final game at the PMAC, Morris – a Beaumont, Texas native – told the media that she wanted to celebrate her senior night in Dallas, the site of the 2023 Women’s Final Four. Well, after leading the Tigers to victory on Sunday with a team-high 21 points, mission accomplished. Lex Luthor called her shot.

“I spoke it into existence,” Morris said. “Texas, I’m coming home, baby.”

Reese, who recorded her 32nd double-double of the season, marking the most in SEC history, is another transfer who is living out her wildest dreams at LSU. At that point in time, Reese needed Mulkey and Mulkey needed Reese. The transfer portal fulfilled those needs, giving Reese a change of scenery and Mulkey one of the greatest players to ever wear the uniform. Sounds like a fair trade.

“I just wanted a fresh start,” Reese said. “Being able to be in a program with Kim Mulkey, where she was going to push me every day, keep me humble and get me to the next level. I needed Coach Mulkey.”

Though, every piece matters to this puzzle. You can’t have an LSU women’s basketball team in the Final Four without Bob Starkey, who up until last year, Mulkey had always admired from afar, but never knew personally. But once an opening on staff became available, Mulkey consulted with an administrative assistant to see if Starkey would be interested in returning to Baton Rouge. 

“When I tell you it’s such a natural fit, you’d think we’d been coaching together for a long time,” Mulkey said. “We think alike. It’s really strange. It’s been very easy, very comfortable. That man took LSU as an interim coach to a Final Four, people forget that. He doesn’t want to be a head coach. This is his calling.”

For Mulkey, she had her own calling: to return home and make an impact at the right time.

It was moments like Sunday, with Mulkey watching her grandson, Kannon, do snow angles in confetti, that made people realize how quickly that impact would be felt.