LSU claims its first NCAA basketball title
That’s usually the best phrase to describe how the winning team feels when the championship confetti begins to fall.
LSU’s women’s basketball team would probably agree with that sentiment. When the final buzzer sounded on Sunday and cemented a 102-85 victory for the Lady Tigers against the Iowa Hawkeyes, there’s a good chance emotions of euphoria and exhaustion were running high.
For this LSU team, their offseason preparation and commitment to one another throughout the entire year culminated in something that very few talented teams will ever experience—a national championship.
You don’t have to convince Lady Tiger coach Kim Mulkey how difficult championships are to win. Mulkey is a born winner who has tasted victory at every level of the sport including three national championships as the head coach of Baylor.
Even with so much past pedigree, Mulkey was seen overcome with emotion in the final seconds of the game as her tears of joy fell to the hardwood.
You shouldn’t have to convince true Tiger fans that championships are difficult to win either. This 2023 NCAA Division I Tournament title represents the first of its kind at LSU for the sport of basketball. While remarkable, this fact becomes even more incredible when the talented teams and players that came before them are considered.
Legends like Seimone Augustus, Sylvia Fowles, Shaquille O’Neal, and Pete Maravich were all generational players that never even made it to the final game of the season much less had the privilege of hoisting the championship trophy.
Before the 2023 Lady Tigers brought home the gold, LSU’s basketball programs were a combined 0-9 in Final Four games.
This should all place appropriate perspective on the rarity of Sunday’s spectacle. Society is spoiled though. People expect their favorite teams to always be in the hunt for a title, especially casual LSU fans. When Mulkey arrived in Baton Rouge two years ago for her introductory press conference, the shot clock for making it back to the Final Four began ticking.
Surprisingly enough, I think even Mulkey exceeded her expectations for how quickly she planned to bring LSU to the pinnacle of the college basketball mountain.
“Are we ahead of schedule?” Mulkey asked at a press conference leading up to the title game. “I think it’s obvious we are ahead of schedule. We’re sitting here playing for the national championship.”
Despite whatever schedules or timelines were set for Mulkey and this LSU women’s program, fans should step back and truly appreciate the moment for the history it represents.
The Lady Tigers were coming off of a decent 2022 season in which they rose from the ashes of a nine-win season the year before to return to the NCAA Tournament. That LSU team would reach the second round before losing at home to Ohio State. Between the 2022 and 2023 seasons, LSU lost four starters but added nine transfers.
One of those transfers happened to be Angel Reese who was the anchor for this Lady Tiger team and the NCAA Tournament most valuable player.
Reese would be the first to tell you that she had quite the supporting cast though. Fifth-year senior Alexis Morris, freshman Flau’jae Johnson, sophomore Kateri Poole, and graduate student LaDazhia Williams are just a few names that played big roles on this title-winning team.
I would also be remiss to not mention the play of graduate student Jasmine Carson who quite possibly made this article the joy it was to write after her scoring performance in the championship gave the Lady Tigers a much-needed boost when it mattered most.
Under the direction of Mulkey, this group of girls was not only able to reach its potential but exceed it.
There were doubters along the way. Many pointed to LSU’s weak non-conference schedule or the road defeat to South Carolina as proof that the Lady Tigers were too flawed to win the tournament.
Pundits and “experts” scratched their heads as LSU was consistently ranked highly atop the Associated Press polls throughout the year. They believed the Lady Tigers were decent enough, but few outside of Louisiana believed LSU was great.
The team responded to the critics with their play on the floor, and, step-by-step, paved their way to the final game. When the dust of the 2023 season settled, it was LSU on the first-place podium.
The temptation for fans will be to look ahead to next year. After all, the Lady Tigers currently have the No.1 recruiting class in the country. When it’s all said and done, the 2024 LSU women’s basketball team could be more talented than this season’s championship team.
For a moment though, let’s live in the euphoric exhaustion with this year’s team. After years of making trips to the Final Four and coming up short, it’s deeply satisfying to finally come away as the winner.
Mulkey may just be getting started at LSU. This may be the only title she’ll ever win in Baton Rouge as unlikely as that sounds. Whatever the case may be, here’s to the 2023 Lady Tigers: the champions of college basketball and LSU legends for the rest of time.