DALLAS — Kim Mulkey is back in another national championship game, this time taking the flagship university from her home state for the first time.
It only took two seasons for LSU to get there with a brilliant and well-dressed coach, and a big comeback in a national semifinal game that was quite the undercard Friday night.
Alexis Morris scored 27 points And two of his fourth-quarter misses were turned into putback baskets by Angel Reese on a big run as LSU beat top-seeded Virginia Tech 79-72 in the first semifinal game.
“I’m never satisfied. I’m excited we won, but I’m hungry,” said Morris, who jumped on a courtside table and fired up LSU fans after the game. “Like, I’m greedy. I want to win it all so I can finish the story.”
Reese finished with 24 points and 12 rebounds for LSU (33-2), which will play Sunday in the national title game against fellow AP All-American Caitlin Clark and Iowa (31-6), which defeated previously unbeaten South Carolina 77-73. In their highly anticipated matchup and all-Southeastern Conference finals.
“It’s like a dream come true. It hasn’t hit me yet that I’m in the Final Four,” said Reiss, a transfer from Maryland, “Bio Barbie.” “I still can’t believe it. It’s crazy how much my life has changed in a year.”
Mulkey — this time in a carnation pink top — has won three national titles, four Final Fours in his 21 seasons at Baylor. He is only the second coach to lead two different teams to the national championship game. The others are C. Vivian Stringer, who did so with Cheyney in the inaugural women’s tournament in 1982 and with Rutgers in 2007.
“I came home for a lot of reasons,” Mulkey said. “One, hang a championship banner in the PMAC (Pete Maravich Assembly Center) someday. You never, ever think you’re going to do something like that in two years.”
LSU made five consecutive national semifinal appearances from 2004-08 – only the Tigers made it this far. He lost every one of those years.
The Tigers had to dig deep for this one, with neither team backing down.
Trailing 59-50 after three quarters, LSU went on a 15-0 run over a five-minute span. The Tigers took the lead for the first time late in the first half. Falu’jae Johnson had a steal and drove in for a layup to make it 64-62..
Reese had six points in that game-changing spurt, including a basket after Morris attempted a 3-pointer off the front rim. Reese made a second attempt of his own after Morris rebounded another shot.
Elizabeth Cutley, a 6-foot-6 senior, had 18 points and 12 rebounds for Virginia Tech (31-5), the defending Atlantic Coast Conference champion in its first-ever Final Four appearance. Georgia Amore and Kiana Traylor each had 17 points, while Kayla King had 14 points.
Amore set the record for most 3-pointers made in a single NCAA Tournament. With 24, though he had a tough shooting night — 4 of 17 overall, including 4 of 15 from beyond the arc. She passed Kia Nurse’s 2017 tournament record of 22 for UConn, which lost in the national semifinals on the same court. Arizona’s Ari McDonald had 22 in six NCAA Tournament games two years ago.
The big run for LSU came when Amore hit his final 3-pointer with 7:52 left for a 62-57 lead. The Hokies didn’t make a second basket until the Kings 3 with 1:19 remaining.
“I think we had a few key turnovers as well as missed boxouts where they scored on second chances,” Traylor said. “I think it really came through.”
Morris opened the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer for LSU, then a driving layup before Reese got a layup after a steal by Johnson. That quick 7-0 run prompted a timeout by Hawkeyes coach Kenny Brooks.
“They hit a couple of shots, gave them a little bit of momentum,” Brooks said. “They were aggressive in the passing lane. But they were also a little more aggressive downfield.”
Virginia Tech ended the first half with an 11-0 run of its own and took the lead for the first time, 34-32 on Traylor’s driving layup with 53 seconds left.
But it was the Tigers who held the lead until 17:55 into the first half, and the Hawkeyes got off to a slow shooting start — missing eight of their first nine shots — that one. The LSU cheerleaders had help before they officially had the shot..
King was charged with a turnover on a ball that hit the rim and bounced over the backboard. At this end, with encouragement from the officials and others, a male cheerleader lifted up a female cheerleader, who knocked the ball down.