BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — LSU coach Kim Mulkey’s admiration for the effort that Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico extracts from her players was encapsulated in short a video clip that Mulkey thought the Tigers needed to see.
Michigan guard Leigha Brown’s diving attempt to corral a loose ball on the hardwood in the Wolverines’ first-round women’s NCAA Tournament triumph over UNLV meant nothing on the stat sheet; Brown wasn’t able to prevent the ball from rolling out of bounds.
But it meant plenty to Mulkey and Barnes Arico as they prepared for a second-round tilt between No. 3 seed LSU (29-2) and sixth-seeded Michigan (23-9) on Sunday night — a game that could be billed as “Kim vs. Kim III.”
“I’m happy that, you know, they saw, and the rest of the world saw, that our team is willing to sell out and willing to sacrifice and make those type of plays, because we do believe those could be difference-makers,” Barnes Arico said after learning that Mulkey had highlighted Brown’s dive while LSU reviewed video of Michigan game action. “LSU and Kim-coached teams, they will play the same way. And our kids will know that. And they will be aware of that.”
LSU guard Alexis Morris got the message when Mulkey played the Brown clip.
“We know we’ve just got to have a certain toughness about ourselves on Sunday,” Morris said. “We’ve got to get those 50-50 balls — you know, do the dirty work that people don’t like to do.”
Barnes Arico knows what it’s like to go up against Mulkey because she’s done so twice before in the previous four NCAA Tournaments — in 2018 and 2021, when Mulkey was at Baylor.
Baylor won the first of those meetings, 80-58, in the second round. Their third-round meeting in 2021 went to overtime before the Bears emerged with a 78-75 victory.
Several Michigan senior leaders — Brown, Emily Kiser and Maddie Nolan — played in that 2021 meeting, and Brown recalled Mulkey complimenting the Wolverines on how hard they played.
“That really meant a lot to us and I know that definitely means a lot to coach Arico,” Brown said. “I do know there’s a mutual respect.”
Mulkey summed up her appreciation for Barnes Arico this way: “She’s one of the good ones. Good coach. Good person. A good mother. Good wife. I hate that we have to play each other.”
Much of LSU’s success this season has hinged on the prolific play of 6-foot-3 All-America power forward Angel Reese, whose combination of height, quickness, and ball skill make her one of the nation’s most dynamic players.
Her 34 points — which tied Marie Ferdinand’s 2001 LSU record for scoring in an NCAA Tournament game — and 15 rebounds led LSU to a first-round 73-50 victory over Hawaii.
But Reese emphasized that her chemistry with 6-4 center LaDazhia Williams — whose quiet demeanor stands in contrast to that of the outspoken and expressive Reese — is a key element to LSU’s usual dominance in the paint.
“People underestimate LaDazhia’s skill because the light is kind of shined on me a lot,” Reese said. “But, I mean, she’s very successful and does a lot of great things that people don’t see.”
Reese, a transfer from Maryland, and Williams, who transferred from Missouri, said they spent a lot of time last summer developing chemistry by playing pick-up basketball.
“We know how to throw each other the ball,” Reese said. “We know how to get each other good shots.”
Barnes-Arico laughed when asked whether she had an outfit planned for the matchup against Mulkey, who is known for wearing high heels and flashy outfits.
“Oh my gosh,” Barnes Arico began. “I can’t keep that pace. I don’t know how she does it.”
During Friday’s first round games, Mulkey wore a white top with glitter-laden, multi colored trim. The front of the top read, “Kiss me, I’m a Queen,” which Mulkey clarified was a reference not to her, but the name of the company (Queen of Sparkles) that made the outfit.
Barnes Arico wore a dark blue crew neck emblazoned with Michigan’s trademark “M” on the chest and maize pants, with comfortable (Jordan Brand) shoes.
Barnes Arico used to wear heels and dress up more for games.
“And then COVID hit and I’m like, ‘Oh my goodness, my feet feel so good and my legs aren’t screaming at the end of the night. I don’t wake up with pain in my calves anymore,’” Barnes Arico recalled.
But she did concede she had “something special” planned for the second-round game.
“I’m not going to be Kim. No one is Kim. I’m the other Kim,” she continued. “But no one is Mulkey. So, she has her own look and it works for her.”
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