GREENVILLE, S.C. — The end of the game was not pretty. No. 3 seed LSU did not make a field goal for nearly four minutes. No. 2 Utah airballed a free throw that could have tied the game. Each team’s best player fouled out: LSU’s Angel Reese and Utah’s Alissa Pili both had to finish the evening on the bench. The whole affair was physical and messy and tough.
But LSU prevailed, 66–63, knocking one of the best offenses in the sport out of the tournament. And the Tigers made a statement. Think their chances live and die with star forward Reese? Think again. While Reese put up her standard double-double, LSU had game-changing contributions instead from a pair of seniors, LaDazhia Williams and Alexis Morris.
Williams’s consistent scoring buoyed LSU throughout the evening: She had a season-high 24 points on 11-of-14 shooting. Morris, meanwhile, came through in the clutch by sinking four of four free throws in the final 10 seconds.
“Seniors,” LSU coach Kim Mulkey said. “I complimented them in the locker room afterwards. I said it in the previous press conference. Seniors. I can't describe it to you. They don't want to take that jersey off for the last time.”
Both veteran players reiterated that sentiment. “I just wanted to do anything that I could to extend our season,” Williams said. Yet they didn’t have much of a choice here other than to step up. The Utes knew the best player on the floor was Reese, and in response, they threw everything they had at her. They double-teamed her, triple-teamed her, successfully baited her into foul trouble. It’s a credit to the sophomore that she was still able to put up something in the ballpark of her normal stat line: She finished with 17 points and 12 rebounds. But that wasn’t enough to carry the team to a win. For that, LSU would need more, and the focus on Reese created opportunities for Williams to provide just that.
“They were homing in on Angel,” LSU freshman guard Flau'jae Johnson said. “But they didn’t know LaDazhia’s really one for real, too. She’s a quiet killer. I knew she was going to come in and do it.”
Williams averages nine points a game. On Friday, she’d reached that by halftime, and with Reese sitting in foul trouble in the second half, Williams stepped it up even more.
“Her footwork is good,” Mulkey said. “She's going to bait you. She's going to look around. Then when she sees an opportunity to give you that up-and-under move, or give you a move where she can take that extra step, she can do it one-on-one.”
Williams—who transferred this season after three years at Mizzou—hadn’t put on this kind of performance yet at LSU. But her teammates said they’ve known all along that she was capable of it.
“She carried us tonight,” Morris said. “I think the best thing about our team is you never know who’s going to step up and be the star. We have so many pieces.”
That dynamic was especially important on a night that forced both teams into some uncharacteristic play. Both of these squads average more than 80 points a game. Neither touched 70 on Friday. A combined four players fouled out. “It was really physical,” Utah coach Lynne Roberts said. “I think you kind of have to pick your poison with that.” Pili, normally the Utes’ leading scorer, was sidelined with foul trouble for extended stretches and finished with just 14 points—tied for her third-lowest scoring game of the year. Even so, Utah had opportunities to win. But missed free throws and an inability to get a quality shot on their final possession sank them.
The result is LSU’s first trip to the Elite Eight since 2008. For Mulkey—who won three championships as the head coach of Baylor before going to Baton Rouge in 2021—that might seem like old hat. But for this program, which has been waiting for years, and for most of these players, who have never been here before, it’s thrilling.
“We’re still building,” Mulkey said. “We’ve only won games. We haven’t won championships. I didn’t come to LSU to win games—I want to win a championship some day. [But] is that going to take away from the excitement of our fans and our institution and our players who have never been to an Elite Eight? Are you kidding me? No.”