LSU wins NCAA Women’s title with defeat of Iowa and Clark

Louisiana State Coach Kim Mulkey tried to temper expectations all season.

She had added nine new players. Who knew how they would scream? In her second year of coaching at LSU, no one should expect a national championship, she argued.

But there was Mulkey in Sunday’s national championship game, wearing a sequined pantsuit that looked like something between a disco ball and an exploded glitter bomb, who led the third-seeded Tigers to their first women’s basketball championship with a convincing victory, 102-85 , about Iowa and its superstar marksman, Caitlin Clark. The Tigers’ 102 points were the most in a women’s Division I title game. Iowa’s 85 was the most in a loss.

Behind towering, smacking forward Angel Reese and a surprise shooting spark from Jasmine Carson, the Tigers brought Clark and college basketball’s most exciting showing to a screeching end, capping off one of the most thrilling individual runs in recent tournament history.

Clark, the consensus National Player of the Year, had captured the nation’s attention with shooting her at NBA distanceher sharp passing and her visible emotion in revelry, frustration and competitive passion.

The Tigers celebrated in midcourt as freshman guard Flau’jae Johnson, who also raps, had one of her songs played at the Dallas arena. Johnson held the trophy and rapped her lyrics while waving her arms.

“Year 2, and hoisting this trophy is crazy,” Mulkey told the crowd. The NCAA Championship is Mulkey’s fourth as a head coach, moving her to third on the career list. Mulkey also won a title as a player at Louisiana Tech in 1982 and one as an assistant coach at the school. Mulkey said she “lost it” with about 90 seconds left on Sunday, breaking down in tears.

“Until that final buzzer goes off, I’m really not for me, but I knew we’d persevere to win this game,” Mulkey said with tears in his eyes.

Reese was named the Most Outstanding Player for the Final Four, finishing with 15 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals. Carson scored a team-high 22 points, including 21 in the first half on 7-of-7 shooting.

“I had so many goals in LSU,” said Reese, who transferred from Maryland ahead of this season. “But I didn’t think I’d win a national championship my first year at LSU”

As the game ended, Reese used one of Clark’s favorite taunts to her, waving a hand in front of her own face, the same move popularized by professional wrestler John Cena. Reese also tapped her right ring finger as she smiled at Clark, pointing out the spot for some new championship jewelry.

Reese, who has been criticized throughout the season for her partying and taunting, said her showboating added meaning.

“I don’t fit into the story,” Reese said. “I don’t fit into the box you all want me to be in. I’m too crazy. I’m too ghetto. You’ve been telling me that all year. But when other people do it, you all say nothing. So this is for the girls who look like me and who speak up about what they believe in – that’s you unashamedly.

Alexis Morris, the Tigers’ point guard, appeared after the game to refer to the massive attention Clark had received throughout the tournament.

“Caitlin, you are a great player” Morris said. “But you have to show some respect for LSU”

In her national semifinal, Clark led all upsets in this tournament as she dropped 41 points against then-undefeated South Carolina, ending what many believed would be a romp for the Gamecocks to a second championship in a row.

A fan prominently waved a sign during that game that read, “In Clark we trust,” as Clark affirmed her fame to a record-breaking television audience, including the curiously nonchalant and fans who have always followed her.

As the teams shook hands after the game, Mulkey told Clark they had a “generation player.”

The match was tightly controlled. The referees disallowed 37 fouls. Clark was forced to spend extra time on the bench as she committed four fouls, her last on a technical foul for throwing a ball in frustration after Iowa’s second leading scorer Monika Czinano picked up her fourth foul.

After the game, umpire Lisa Jones said that Clark was technically charged for not immediately returning the ball to an umpire and Iowa had already received a delay of play warning in the third quarter.

Czinano and McKenna Warnock, another Iowa starter, were both thrown out on an error. Reese finished with four errors.

“They wouldn’t even listen to me, they couldn’t even talk,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said of the officials. “If your two seniors have to sit on the bench, those two women didn’t deserve it. And Caitlin gets a T? It is a pity.”

Before their match, Mulkey acknowledged that she had never seen a player like Clark. “She’s going to get her points,” Mulkey said ahead of the final.

And Clark did, scoring 30 points to go with 8 assists, but the Tigers had one of their most fantastic shooting games all season and their fourth highest scoring output.

“The main thing is that it’s very special. I don’t think it will last a long time for me,” said Clark, a junior. “I want my legacy to be the impact I can have on young kids and the people of Iowa State and I hope I brought them a lot of joy this season. I hope this team brought them a lot of joy.”

Things started early for LSU as Johnson knocked down the first of the Tigers’ three baskets from 3-point range in the first quarter. That showed the Hawkeyes that they couldn’t approach this game the same way South Carolina did, by letting them shoot from the outside.

“Caitlin will have to play a little defensive,” Morris said.

Morris was right. The Tigers led a three-point barrage anchored by Carson, who made five in the first half to help build a 17-point halftime lead. The Tigers finished 11 for 17 on 3-pointers—more than keeping pace with Iowa’s 14 for 30—and Morris made all six of her shots in the fourth quarter, scoring 15 in the span as Iowa tried to stop the loss.

“I was so determined not to disappoint anyone tonight,” said Morris.

In the last minute, Morris waved goodbye to the Iowa-loving crowd.

The title followed several tumultuous years for Mulkey. She came to LSU two seasons ago after winning three championships in 21 seasons with Baylor, including in 2012 in large part because of star center Brittney Griner.

But when Griner left Baylor, she told ESPN that she was never happy there because she couldn’t be “completely gone” lesbian. “It feels so good to say it: I am a strong black lesbian woman. Every time I say it, I feel so much better,” she said.

Then Griner was arrested in Russia a year ago, accused of carrying a vape cartridge containing hash oil, and the United States government ruled she had been wrongfully detained. In September, while Griner was still imprisoned in a Russian penal colony, Mulkey stopped a reporter asking for a response to Griner’s detention. “You won’t get one,” Mulkey said.

At a press conference last week, a reporter introduced a question about Griner to Mulkey by saying “she had to ask,” and Mulkey interrupted and said, “No, you want to ask.”

When asked if she had spoken to Griner since her release in December in a prisoner exchange, Mulkey said, “No. But I’m glad she’s back.” She added: “I’m glad she’s safe, she’s healthy. I think everyone is. But no, I haven’t.”

The Tigers’ championship season reflected how much college basketball has changed. Mulkey had significant roster turnover and four of her five starters were transfers. Some coaches, such as Mississippi’s Yolett McPhee-McCuin, have described the NCAA’s transfer portal as shopping for players.

Mulkey’s portal shopping was effective, as she secured Reese (Maryland), the best transfer available, and others who played key roles in the championship win, including Carson (West Virginia) and LaDazhia Williams (Missouri).

After Mulkey left Baylor, she said, she hadn’t realized how useful the portal would be in accelerating her success.

“The transfer portal was obviously good for us at LSU,” Mulkey said. “But you know, in a week kids can leave, kids you don’t expect to leave.”

Coaches like Mulkey, with multiple championship titles and a proven track record of sending players to the WNBA, dominate the portal; it was Mulkey’s name and track record that helped her land Reese and quickly catapult LSU atop college basketball.

“She’s the plan,” Morris said. “Coach Mulkey is the GOAT. The only LSU needed was Coach Mulkey.

Morris, Williams and Carson will be gone next season, having exhausted their college admissions. So Mulkey will probably start shopping the portal again this off-season.

But first she’s going to party. Attention fans of glitter and sequins.