This season has not started off the way the reigning NCAA champions LSU have wanted. A bizarre scene appears to be unfolding in Baton Rouge; women’s basketball fans watch in confusion as the team falls apart in real time. Tensions seem to be high on the team that looked so likely to repeat with ease.
LSU won the national championship last year over Iowa 102-85. Despite losing point-guard Alexis Morris, LSU remained strong holding onto their star forward Angel Reese while obtaining Louisville transfer Hailey Van Lith. They also anticipated increased production from sophomore Flau'jae Johnson, and a new freshman presence from incoming five star recruit Mikaylah Williams. The Tigers were the overwhelming choice to win the National Championship, and an easy choice for the no.1 ranking. Just two weeks into the season though, the stable foundation on which the dominant program is built on appears to be fractured. Players seem to be fighting, coaches are tightlipped, and parents are exchanging blows on Instagram.
The season got off on a rough foot straight from the jump as No. 1 LSU lost its first game of the season in a blowout to No. 20 Colorado, 92-79. Reese scored 15 points with 12 rebounds on 6-of-15 shooting. Kim Mulkey expressed her displeasure after the game, and wasn’t shy about voicing her disappointment in the veterans: "I’m disappointed and surprised in some players I thought would be tougher and have a little fight and leadership about them," Mulkey said after the loss.” Mulkey added that she wasn’t particularly frustrated with their playing, but she was appalled by their lack of heart. She thought her team lacked guts and physical play. She points out she wasn’t upset with Mikaylah Williams and Sa’Myah Smith because they did all they could, but indicates because they’re a true freshman and sophomore duo, their effort won’t be enough. Her speech definitely pointed at the veteran stars who lacked fierceness and leadership during adversity and failed to give their team the boost they needed.
Two games later, LSU faced off against Kent State, and while the Tigers won 109-79, all the attention shifted to the puzzling treatment of Angel Reese. Reese was taken out of the game 48 seconds in after taking an inadvisable three-pointer, and never went back in for more than five minutes. It got stranger after halftime. Mulkey benched the star in the second half and Reese finished the game with 11 points and 5 rebounds in 14 minutes of the first half. When asked, Mulkey declined any explanation for benching her star claiming, "I could, but I won't. It was just a coach's decision." Rumors spun around a locker room battle between Mulkey and Reese and Reese’s possible need for an attitude adjustment. However, no reason was ever given as to why the star sat out in the second half.
The following game LSU defeated Southeastern Louisiana 73-50, but Reese was nowhere to be seen. Her absence was not announced before the game and again Mulkey declined to offer an explanation afterwards. All Mulkey provided was "Angel was not in uniform. Angel is a part of this basketball team, and we hope she's back with the team soon. I'm not gonna answer any more than that." Reese was not in the building, in uniform, or a part of the team in any way, and no one aside from the team knows where she was during the game.
The situation got even weirder when the parents of the players began a very public fight on social media. Reese’s mother, Angel Webb Reese seemingly denounced LSU player Flau’jae Johnson for her grammatical errors on her Instagram story by posting "Folks pls do not sent me long text msgs with a bunch of grammatical errors…It gives me a headache [facepalm emoji] how do I know you said what you said if I can't understand what you're saying [facepalm emoji] [cry-laughing emoji]".
Johnson’s mother, Kia Brooks was not going to let that slide, firing back, "Stop being petty, fake and hateful and take responsibility for you and your daughters actions," Brooks posted on Instagram. "Your just as responsible you raised her that way.” Brooks also added "You definitely know about grammar errors when your daughter got a 2.0-or-less grade point average," she said. This comment has fans speculating the possibility of Reese’s absence in part due to her GPA being too low to play.
When asked about the social media family feud Mulkey shrugged it off claiming, "Well, if you’re going to ask me social media stuff, I can cut you off...I know nothing about it. Anybody in here can tell you, I don’t know what’s on social media. I don’t know what people see, read, whatever. Buddy, I’ve been doing this for 40 years. If there’s negative stuff on social media, do you think it’s the first time I’ve ever had to deal with it? Coach. Just coach and get your team prepared."
However, the posts are not exclusively for the mothers, with former teammates jumping in the mix to voice their opinions. Former LSU point guard Alexis Morris posted multiple obscure tweets where she appeared to take her old coach's side and hinted at internal grievances between teammates: “You can’t pay me to bash Kim!!!” posted Morris. “Can’t we all just get [along]? Heck no that's over with.” Former grad transfer Jasmine Cooper allegedly tweeted "y'all better hope I don't say nothing" in a tweet that has now been deleted. These tweets from former LSU players confirm something is going on in the LSU locker room that threatens the chemistry of the team and the success of the season. Even former teammates won’t expose what’s going on, only that something bad is happening within LSU.
Questions still surround the reason for Reese being benched and rumors continue to swirl on social media. A source told Glenn Guilbeau, an LSU sportswriter, that Reese is undergoing an “attitude adjustment,” while Brooks’ tweets point at Reese’s struggling academics as the explanation. Others cite the possibility of stardom clouding the celebrity’s judgment. Reese burst onto the scene last season and a whirlwind of fame soon followed. She gained recognition during her on-court dispute with Iowa’s Caitlin Clark, the drama over the white house visit, and her appearance in a Cardi B music video. Reese spent the offseason winning awards and making appearances around the country. She won the ESPY for Best Breakthrough Athlete and was featured in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue. She accompanied fellow LSU athlete Olivia Dunne on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Money Issue. Some allege that all the attention got to her head and took away from her focus on the season.
Whatever the reason, it doesn’t take away from the consequences LSU is already facing. The team is currently 4-1, but they have already plummeted from no. 1 to no. 7 in the AP poll. Their confidence is shaken after losing game one and no one knows who will play in the next game. Clearly, there are problems internally that need to be addressed if the Tigers want a chance to repeat. Whatever it is, the Bayou Barbie needs to do what needs to be done to get back on the court for her team.