BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — When LSU coach Kim Mulkey looked around the locker room before pre-game ceremonies to honor the program’s first national title last spring, she said she saw players who looked like they didn’t know whether to smile or look sour.
Coming off a surprising season-opening loss to No. 20 Colorado in Las Vegas on Monday, LSU “had to respond,” star forward Angel Reese said. “I think we responded.”
Reese had 28 points and 14 rebounds, Sa’Myah Smith added 21 points, and No. 1 LSU defeated Queens 112-55 on Thursday night in the Tigers’ first home game since winning the 2023 national championship.
“I felt I let my team down on Monday and was trying to get back to the player that I am and that they know me for,” Reese said. “So I just went off of rebounds first and then just tried to score as much as I can and do whatever it takes to win. My defense wasn’t the best on Monday, so that was important for me tonight.”
Reese was aggressive from the start, hitting a layup along with seven free throws in the first quarter alone to help stake LSU (1-1) to a 33-20 lead. She had 21 points and nine rebounds by halftime, when LSU led 56-30.
Nicole Gwynn provided most of the highlights for the Royals (0-2), hitting a career-high eight 3-pointers and tying a career high with 26 points.
“It felt good, but I’m just overall super happy and thrilled that I got the chance to play against them,” Grywnn said.
That memorable performance for the South Carolina State transfer was not nearly enough to keep Queens close.
DePaul transfer Aneesah Morrow scored 16 points for LSU and Flau’jae Johnson had 13 points, three blocked shots and three steals.
“I don’t even care that we scored in the 100s,” Mulkey said. “I am so focused on defense right now. I am challenging some of them like they’ve never been challenged in their life. It’s just got to be that way.
“We’re not a polished product,” Mulkey added. “I don’t know when it will be really, really good, but we’ll get there.”
Queens: The margin of loss could have been far worse if not for Gwynn, a junior from Hartford, Connecticut, and a transfer from South Carolina State, who scored nearly half of their points
LSU: The Tigers’ advantage in the paint was evident in their 63.6% shooting (42 of 66). They also went 24 of 29 from the foul line. Less flattering were their perimeter numbers. They went 4 of 13 from 3-point range.
Standing at half court before the game, LSU President William F. Tate IV handed out the rings to players and coaches from last year’s team who walked across a long spot-lit purple mat with “2023 National Champions” written in gold letters.
Former players who returned for the ceremony included guard Alexis Morris, who was cheered wildly as she appeared in a shimmering gold jacket and pants.
Once rings were handed out, the arena video board showed a clip from Mulkey’s formal introduction as LSU coach after she first left Baylor during the 2021 offseason. At that time, Mulkey stood in the same arena and asked everyone to notice the five Final Four banners hanging from the catwalk below the arena’s domed roof.
“Nowhere does it say, ‘National Champion,’” Mulkey remarked in the 2021 video. “That’s what I came here to do.”
Moments later the championship banner was raised while purple and gold streamers flowed around it.
“Got that monkey off my back, didn’t I?” Mulkey, a Louisiana native, said while brushing her had across her shoulder. “Our institution needed that. Our state needed that feel-good” moment.
Queens coach Jen Brown gathered her whole team and staff in their bench area to see the ceremony, calling it a “once-in-lifetime opportunity” and a “blessing” to witness.
“I have a lot of respect for this game,” Brown said. “Why wouldn’t you want to be out there and see something like that.”
Queens: The Royals host Johnson & Wales on Tuesday.
LSU: The Tigers host Mississippi Valley State on Sunday.