After LSU women’s basketball lost their season opener to Colorado in Las Vegas, the team had to undergo some adversity.
Quickly, the defending national champions were humbled and had to get back to work in order to continue defending their crown. Then, star player Angel Reese was benched in a game and missed the following four games for personal reasons.
However, the “Bayou Barbie” returned in a big way Thursday night, scoring 19 points against 9th-ranked Virginia Tech to take down the Hokies 82-64 and give head coach Kim Mulkey her 700th win. Mulkey became the fastest coach, men’s or women’s, to win 700 games, beating out Geno Aurriema and Adolph Rupp.
After the game, a video message played in the arena congratulating Mulkey on her accomplishment, including messages from her former players and athletic directors.
“I’m trying not to get emotional,” Mulkey said postgame. “I didn’t know that was taking place. I was trying to go to the student section to thank them for being here tonight. My daughter (MacKenzie) and son (Kramer) just kept saying Mom, stay right here. You won your 700th game, they’ve done something for you. So I stayed right there. And then they made me look up there. It’s touching.”
“It’s some of those people on that screen I haven’t seen since I coached them,” Mulkey continued. “They have children now, they’re married. It’s touching because I’ve always told them these are the greatest years of your life in college, but you don’t know it yet. Wait until you’re married, you have to pay bills, you have to change a diaper. You’re going to look back and go, that woman was right. These are the greatest years of your life in college.”
Mulkey’s career has truly been one to behold. As a player at Louisiana Tech, she was an All-American point guard and won two national championships, including the inaugural 1982 NCAA title. Then, Mulkey was an assistant coach for the Techsters from 1985-1999. While there, the program had a 430-68 record, appeared in seven Final Fours, and won the 1988 national title.
In 2000, she was hired by Baylor to turn the Bears’ program around, and she hit the ground running. The Bears made their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament in her first season, winning at least 20 games in every season in Waco. She brought the program to its first national championship in 2005 before going 40-0 in 2012, the most wins in a college basketball season, men’s or women’s, before winning a second national title for the program. The legendary coach added one more title in 2019, defeating Notre Dame 82-81. That win made Mulkye just the third coach to have three or more women’s titles, joining Auriemma and Tennessee’s legendary coach Pat Summit.
Then, after the COVID pandemic in 2020, Mulkey was hired by LSU in April of 2021. The Tigers women’s program had a historical run in the 2000s, appearing in five straight Final Fours with the likes of Sylbia Folwes and Seimone Augustus leading the way. However, the 2010s were a declining phase for the program, and athletic director Scott Woodward knew he needed to do something. Mulkey returned to her home state, 45 minutes from where she grew up in the Hammond area. During her first season with the Tigers, she led the team to a 26-6 record and a second-round appearance in the NCAA Tournament. It was the greatest turnaround of a program in SEC history as the team hosted the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament.
Then in 2022, with the help of former Baylor player Alexis Morris and transfer Angel Reese, the Tigers captured their first national championship, defeating Caitlin Clark and Iowa 102-85 to finish the season with a 34-2 overall record.
Coming into this season, the Tigers were widely regarded as the favorite to repeat. Then, a season-opening loss to #20 Colorado in the Hall of Fame Classic opened the eyes of the nation as well as the team. After that, the Tigers won six straight games against inferior competition before battling with Virignia in the Cayman Islands Classic in a 76-73 showdown that LSU came out on top of.
Everything mentioned above led the Tigers into the ACC-SEC Challenge to battle with Georgia Amoore, Elizabeth Kitley, and the 9th-ranked Virginia Tech Hokies. The game started slowly, with LSU committing seven turnovers in the first quarter alone. However, the presence of Reese, the veteran leadership of Hailey Van Lith, and the offensive excellence of Aneesah Morrow and Mikaylah Williams propelled the Purple and Gold to an 18-point victory in a Top 10 matchup that was nationally televised.
The win over the Hokies does a lot more than keep the Tigers in the national conversation. This win can propel Mulkey’s team through the rest of the season. Still a fairly young and new group, they will have to continue to figure out how to gel together and have sound chemistry as they get into the SEC schedule. After a week-long break for final exams, the Tigers will return to the PMAC to battle the Louisiana Ragin Cajuns on December 10.
700 wins is no doubt an accomplishment, especially when you’re the fastest to get there. But Mulkey cares about just one thing: graduating her players.
“What you try to do is you try to send them home with a degree,” Mulkey said. “That’s what I’m most proud of. In all my years of coaching, if a young lady finished playing for me in that uniform, she went home with a degree, and that is so important to me. I didn’t have parents that went to college, they went straight from high school to working. I was the only one who went to college and never wanted them to pay for an education. That’s the only thing I can promise young people: I’m going to help you get that degree. I don’t care how long it takes. That is what makes me feel most proud.”
Buckle up, Tiger fans. This group has the potential to repeat and they will put on a show while they chase that second national title.
Matt Miguez is the host of the Miguez Mindset Podcast on ESPN Southwest Louisiana’s YouTube channel. He is also a digital contributor for ESPN 103.7 Lafayette and 104.1 Lake Charles.