The collegiate basketball season comes to a close as a new NCAA National Champion has been crowned. On Sunday, April 2, 2023, No. 3 LSU made history by defeating No. 2 Iowa to win the first national title in their program’s history.
It wasn’t that long ago that LSU head coach Kim Mulkey made her pilgrimage back to Louisiana and was introduced as the new head coach for LSU women’s basketball. Mulkey is no stranger to winning championships as she won two national titles as a player at Louisiana Tech University. She then went on to spend 21 seasons as the head coach for Baylor. The women’s basketball program rose to new heights under her leadership resulting in 3 national titles. Two of those titles and a 40 – 0 record were accomplished with the skills of basketball phenomenon Brittney Griner who played at Baylor for four years under Mulkey’s coaching.
Mulkey made it clear in her return to Louisiana that she had one mission and that was to bring a title to the program. “I made a statement and asked everybody to turn around and look at those Final Four banners.” Mulkey recalled during her head coach introduction ceremony, “Nowhere on there did it say ‘national champions.’ And that’s what I came home to do.”
That is why, even though Mulkey has seen success as a player and as a coach, this victory felt different. “Yes,” Mulkey said, “it does matter being home.”
“With about 1:30 to go, I couldn’t hold it. I got very emotional,” Mulkey recalled. “That’s really not like me until the buzzer goes off, but I knew we were going to hold on and win this game. I don’t know if it’s the mere fact that we’re doing this in my second year back home. I don’t know if it was the fact I am home. I don’t know if I was looking across there at my daughter and my grandchildren. I don’t know if I was looking across at LSU. I don’t know what it was, but I lost it.”
The LSU tigers, who entered the game as the underdogs, sent a clear message that they were there to play. The Tigers scored the most points ever in a championship game in their 102-85 victory over Iowa.
Jasmine Carson was the team’s high scorer with 22 points that included an impressive 7 of 8 run from behind the line.
“It was a surreal moment,” Carson said post-game. “Every player dreams of being on a big stage like this and having the game of your life, and for it to come to fruition — it meant a lot.”
Alexis Morris spent the night defending the Associated Press’s National Player of the Year, Caitlin Clark, keeping her away from the basket. Morris delivered in her defensive duties and even dropped 21 clutch points to seal the victory.
Angel Reese had a 15-point, 10 rebound game which meant she now holds the record for the most double-doubles in a season with 34 in total.
Caitlin Clark of the Iowa Hawkeyes set a few records, even in her team’s eventual defeat. With dropping multiple 40-point games, recording the first 40-point triple-double, and scoring the most three-point shots (32), Clark is now the all-time scoring leader for March Madness with 191 points in total. Passing the legendary Sheryl Swoopes (177) and Michigan’s Glen Rice (184).
This was by far the one of the most, if not the most successful women’s basketball tournaments in the history of the sport. One would think that after all the incredible record-breaking basketball that was witnessed over the course of the tournament, that is what fans would be focused on. Unfortunately, the focus has pivoted towards taunting on the court. It should be noted that this would never be a discussion with any men’s sport because it’s a non-issue. Men are lauded and applauded for their “passion,” “fire,” and “competitive spirit” on the court which sometimes shows up in taunts. In fact, ESPN ran a segment on Friday titled, “Caitlin Clark: The Queen of Clap Backs.” Clark, who is a very passionate player, has talked enough trash on the court to warrant a highlight reel on ESPN which was received positively by media members and Twitter warriors/casual fans alike who enjoy her “antics.” Clark famously waved her hand in front of her face mimicking WWE star John Cena’s “You can’t see me” gesture during the matchup against Louisville and waved off defending South Carolina’s Raven Johnson who was posted at the arc. Clark’s taunts were called “beautiful” and “a cheat code.”
As fate would have it, during the 4th quarter of the championship game Reese gave the Cena wave back to Clark pointing at her ring finger for a little razzle dazzle.
“Caitlin Clark is a hell of a player, but I don’t take disrespect lightly,” Reese said. “She disrespected [LSU’s] Alexis [Morris] (…) and I wanted to pick her pocket. But I had a moment at the end of her game. I was in my bag, I was in my moment.”
Clark is on record saying she didn’t even notice it. “I was just trying to get to the handshake line and shake hands and be grateful that my team was in that position,” Clark said in the post-game press conference. “All the credit in the world to LSU. They were tremendous. They deserve it. They had a tremendous season.”
Former President Barack Obama offered his congratulations on Twitter saying, “Congrats to the new champs, @LSUwbkb! They earned it, and I have a feeling we’ll be seeing a lot more from them in the years ahead.”
Magic Johnson tweeted at Reese right after the game saying, “Congratulations to Angel Reese for recording her 34th double double, the most in NCAA history!”
In the end, the Tigers won and that should have been the end of it.
However, when there are black bodies to police, it’s never the end of it. It is almost ironic how South Carolina’s head coach Dawn Staley addressed criticisms against her team’s “style of play” a few days prior. She called out members of the media who have made prejudiced remarks about her players. “We’re not bar fighters. We’re not thugs. We’re not monkeys. We’re not streetfighters. This team exemplifies how you need to approach basketball, on the court and off the court, and I do think that’s sometimes brought into the game, and it hurts,” Staley explained.
She went on to say, “When you say things that you probably shouldn’t be saying in the home, on the phone or texting, out in public and you’re being heard, and you are a national writer for our sport, it just confirms what we already know. So, watch what you say when you’re in public and you’re talking about my team in particular, just watch what you say about our team, because it’s wrong. You got young lives who…, if you really knew them, you would think differently. So don’t judge us by the color of our skin, judge us by how we approach the game, and you may not like how we play the game, that’s the way we play, [and] that’s the way I coach. I’m not changing, we’ve found success in it, and maybe some days, like today, we end up on the losing side of the stick, but guess what, we live to see another day. We live to see the comeback next year and try to do this again, ‘cause I’m not changing, but I hear you, ‘cause I do have friends in the media, believe it or not.”
Because this is the nature of how there is a double standard, not only in men’s versus women’s sports, but more specifically with how white and black players are viewed, it was no surprise that Reese went on to receive harsh criticism from media members and randoms online following LSU’s win.
“All year, I was critiqued for who I was. I don’t fit the narrative,” Reese said. “I don’t fit the box that y’all want me to be in. I’m too hood. I’m too ghetto. Y’all told me that all year. But when other people do it… y’all don’t say nothing.
“So, this is for the girls that look like me. For those that want to speak up for what they believe in. It’s [to be] unapologetically you. And that’s what I did it for tonight. It was bigger than me tonight.”
Reese went on to say, “…I’m happy. I feel like I’ve helped grow women’s basketball this year. (…) I’m looking forward to celebrating and then next season.”
It’s time to be for real. Competitors compete. When people are allowed to be the greatest they can be, regardless of color and regardless of gender, the game is better for it.