Kim Mulkey didn't waste any time making her proclamation. In her introductory press conference at LSU, she had her team turn around and look at the banners hanging in the rafters.
There were no title banners up there, and that was going to change. At least if she had anything to say about it. But even a Hall of Fame coach didn't harbor any illusions that there's be a chance to fulfill that goal in Year 2.
But hey, that's why you play the games, right?
"Yea, it’s a puzzle. It’s crazy I’m sitting up here," she said after her team's Final Four victory. "It’s crazy we’re getting ready to play for a national championship. I keep wanting to call somebody and say ’tell me how we did this in two years.’ I don’t know."
Well, it started in the transfer portal and continued with star-studded performances by players like Angel Reese and Alexis Morris throughout. And it was punctuated, at least to this point, with a comeback, 79-72 victory over 1 seed Virginia Tech. But LSU wasn't alone in that regard, on the opposite side of the bracket, 2 seed Iowa took down juggernaut South Carolina. Those two teams will meet in the title game on Sunday.
"It’s bittersweet that I have to leave [after next game], but I’d rather leave on top more than anything, compared to anything," said Alexis Morris, who poured in 27 points in the win. "I’m just super excited. If you know me, I’m never satisfied. I’m super excited that we won, but I’m hungry. I’m greedy. I want to win it all so I can complete the story, complete the comeback.”
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What happened down the stretch?
“I thought both teams looked tired. Their adrenaline’s high, and they’re all emotional, both teams trying to do the best they can. I told them in the timeout, I said your conditioning is going to play a factor in this game. I said you can’t run the floor slower than them, you have to beat them down the floor. Then going into the fourth quarter … the way I approached that was, you’ve got two minutes left in the game, you’re down 8, you’ve got to come out smoking and on fire. You’ve got to play like you’re never going to play again. Not 10 minutes. I didn’t want them to get comfortable thinking they had a lot of time. I wanted them to come out, pick the pace up defensively, fly to the offensive boards as if you’ve got two minutes to play.”
Her team went on a quick run and cut the Hokies' lead to two, at which point a timeout was called.
“I said, OK, now, you’re back in the ball game, but we don’t have 8 minutes, we have 2 minutes. I just felt like we had to challenge them on a sense of urgency.”
What does it mean to do this for your home state?
“That I’m blessed. I came home for lots of reasons, one to someday hang a championship banner in the PMAC. Never, ever do you think you’re going to do something like this in 2 years. And I also keep perspective. No team, and you think about all the great men’s players that have played at LSU. You think about all the great women’s players that have played. When they told me none had ever played for a national championship, I was kind of surprised. So, that’s an accomplishment. That’s a step in the right direction. And I can’t explain to you unless you’re sitting on the sideline, to look across that way and look at the fans. I saw Louisiana Tech players that I coached. I saw Baylor players that I coached. I saw LSU players from last year that I coached. And they’re all cheering for their coach. And it makes you just realize they know what we feel in that moment.”
Did you set a timeline for when you'd expect to win a title?
“Absolutely not. Never have I coached, even at Baylor when we won our first one in 5 years, you can’t do that. Transfer portal affects everything. There’s no way that you can put a timeline on anything. What you do, is you try to take one more step, just one more step. Is that a positive? Are we heading in the right direction? But no, you don’t put this kind of timeline on anything.”