LSU women’s basketball timeline: Explaining Kim Mulkey and the Tigers’ tumultuous 2024 season

LSU women’s basketball looked primed for an even better 2024 season after winning the 2023 national championship.

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Angel Reese and Flau’jae Johnson returned to the Tigers, and Hailey Van Lith and Aneesah Morrow transferred in. With coach Kim Mulkey still at the helm, LSU entered the 2023-24 season as the preseason favorites to repeat as national champions.

While a repeat remains a real possibility for the Tigers, the feat feels far less likely at this point. The team has been in the center of multiple controversies throughout the season, including one swirling around Mulkey as the team embarks on its NCAA Tournament run.

The Tigers earned a No. 3 seed for March Madness despite entering the season as favorites. They finished 29-5 and are in the same region as Caitlin Clark’s No. 1 Iowa team and No. 2 UCLA.

As LSU begins its NCAA Tournament title defense, here’s a look back at the Tigers’ tumultuous season, including Mulkey’s comments on a rumored Washington Post “hit piece” on March 23.

November 2023: Kim Mulkey calls out lack of ‘leadership’ on roster

LSU’s controversies began after the season opener on Nov. 6 against No. 20 Colorado.

The top-ranked Tigers lost, 92-78, to the Buffaloes at the Hall of Fame Series in Las Vegas. Mulkey spoke after the game about how the roster lacked leadership.

“I’m disappointed and surprised in some individual players that I thought would just be tougher and have a little fight and leadership about them,” Mulkey said. “… What I don’t live with is just guts and fight and physical play [not being there]. You got that dog in you. I just didn’t think we had that tonight.”

Mulkey credited freshman Mikaylah Williams and sophomore Sa’Myah Smith for their hard work during the game. She didn’t namedrop any specific players who lacked leadership, but one could assume she was talking about seniors Hailey Van Lith and Angel Reese.

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“You’re talking about a true freshman and a true sophomore,” Mulkey said. “We need more than just them to have a little bit of fight.”

November 2023: Angel Reese receives suspension, Kateri Poole leaves team

Issues continued to pile up in November and trickled into December.

Reese, the team’s star forward, played just the first half against Kent State on Nov. 14. Mulkey told reporters it was a “coach’s decision” to bench Reese in the 30-point victory.

While no reason was given for the absence, Reese’s and Johnson’s mothers started drama on social media that led former LSU players to chime in. Reese went on to miss the next four games, including the Cayman Islands Classic.

Mulkey dodged questions about her star player, never truly giving the public an answer as to why Reese was away from the team. She gave hints, however, referring to “locker room issues” and compared the situation to “disciplining your own children.”

Reese returned to the lineup after four games, dropping 19 points and nine rebounds against No. 9 Virginia Tech on Nov. 30.

Kateri Poole, however, did not return to the lineup. She played four games for the Tigers but was away from the team following the Nov. 17 game against Southeastern Louisiana.

On Dec. 10, coach Kim Mulkey announced that Poole was “no longer with” the team but would not comment on the details of her departure. Poole averaged 2.0 points, 1.8 rebounds and 1.5 assists in 12.8 minutes per game this season.

March 2024: LSU gets into SEC championship game fight with South Carolina

After a rough start, LSU went a few months without any controversy. The Tigers won 16 straight following their season-opening loss to Colorado, and Reese returned to the team full-time, racking up 20 double-doubles in the regular season.

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Then came the SEC championship game against undefeated South Carolina, which wouldn’t have made it there if not for Kamilla Cardoso’s heroics in the semifinal.

The conference tournament final was a chippy game long before the fight broke out as Reese and Cardoso battled on the block.

Tempers boiled over with just a few minutes remaining in the game. Johnson shoved Ashlyn Watkins after the South Carolina sophomore celebrated in front of her.

Cardoso rushed in and knocked Johnson to the ground. In response, players came off the bench and Johnson’s brother jumped over the scorer’s table.

All players who left the bench were ejected, and so was Cardoso. The South Carolina star was suspended for the first game of the NCAA Tournament due to her ejection for fighting.

Cardoso and South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley both apologized for the actions, but Mulkey continued to stir the pot.

The LSU coach told reporters that she wished Cardoso went after Reese instead, since Johnson is 5-10 and Cardoso is 6-7.

“Don’t push a kid. You’re 6-8, don’t push somebody that little,” said Mulkey, incorrectly stating Cardoso’s height. “Let them two girls that were jawing, let them go at it.”

Several days later, Mulkey blasted the media for its constant coverage on the altercation, saying “it comes across as a little bit sexist” on her weekly appearance on WAFB in Baton Rouge.

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She even downplayed the incident, saying it wasn’t a fight and people should move on.

March 2024: Kim Mulkey threatens to sue The Washington Post

LSU is one game into its title defense, having defeated No. 14 Rice 70-60 in the Round of 64 on Friday, March 22.

Still, the Tigers are wrapped up in more controversy. Mulkey told reporters that the Washington Post is planning a “hit piece” about her, saying the national paper has reached out to former disgruntled players for a story designed to bash the longtime college coach.

“This is exactly why people don’t trust journalists and the media anymore,” Mulkey said. “It’s these kinds of sleazy tactics and hatchet jobs that people are just tired of. I’m fed up.”

There’s no indication of the subject of the Washington Post’s story, but Mulkey threatened to sue the publication if they “publish a false story about me.”

“Not many people are in a position to hold these kind of journalists accountable,” Mulkey said. “But I am, and I’ll do it.”

No. 3 seed LSU plays No. 11 seed Middle Tennessee State in the NCAA Tournament round of 32 at 3 p.m. ET Sunday, March 24.

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