BATON ROUGE, Louisiana. It’s a cool Saturday afternoon in Louisiana. Birds are chirping, and the sun briefly peeks through the gray clouds, saving us from the uncharacteristically cold weather.
And within the confines of Pete Maravich’s recruiting center, the Michigan women’s basketball team is still dancing.
After the victory UNLV, 71-59 Friday, the No. 6 seed Wolverines will face No. 3 seed LSU on Sunday with a chance to advance to their third straight Sweet Sixteen. But doing this will not be an easy task.
The Tigers, led by head coach Kim Mulkey and sophomore forward Angel Reese, boast one of the nation’s most formidable units and lost just one game all regular season before falling to Tennessee in the SEC Tournament semifinals. In order to avoid a second-round advance tomorrow, Michigan will have to shut down LSU’s offense while avoiding the recurring mistakes that have plagued the Wolverines in recent matchups against top-ranked opponents.
Michigan has played LSU just once since Kim Barnes Arrico took over as head coach in 2012 — a 64-62 loss in 2013 — but the Tigers to feel as a familiar enemy, partly because of Malka.
Prior to her time at LSU, Mulkey coached Baylor for 21 seasons. During that time, it knocked Michigan out of the NCAA Tournament twice, in 2018 in the second round and the last time in 2021 in the Sweet Sixteen.
“We’ve played against her a few times over the last five years,” Barnes said of Arico after Sunday’s NCAA Tournament Selection Show. “Someone must like the Kims together because they always put us in the same group as them. … I told my husband that it feels like we spend every Easter holiday with Malka.”
This time, the Wolverines will be looking to finally get past Malka’s team. But above all, that means stopping Reese, LSU first team All American who is averaging 23.4 points and 15.5 rebounds per game. Slowing her down will be a game-changer for Michigan, who also faced Reese during his two seasons at the University of Maryland.
Reese played two seasons with the Terrapins before committing to Baton Rouge, but missed most of her freshman year with an injury. In a regular season game against Maryland last season, the Wolverines’ ability to shut down Reese paved the way for the victory. While the aim is high to repeat this performance, it could be the deciding factor in tomorrow’s game.
The LSU game
For Michigan, the Baton Rouge win focuses on strong performances from its own top players. Senior forward Emily Kaiser, who scored 18 points against the Rebels, should keep up with Reese on the interior. Against the smaller and faster Tigers, the Wolverines’ size will again be an advantage, but keeping pace could prove difficult.
“Their speed and athleticism will definitely be a problem for us tomorrow,” Kiser said Saturday.
Big games from the Wolverines’ top scorers, including fifth-year guard Leighie Brown and senior guard Maddie Nolan, will be needed to overcome the challenge and keep up with the high-scoring Tigers: LSU is averaging nearly 84 points per game for the season, a mark Michigan hasn’t reached since Jan. 7.
It’s a goal the Wolverines have been preparing for.
“There was a lot of energy and intensity,” Brown told The Daily. “Especially the last four days we had to scout UNLV. Just being able to lock in and fine-tune some things that we really weren’t able to lock in during the regular season was really important.”
Michigan looked well-rounded in Friday’s game against the Rebels, but there will be another big factor in Sunday’s contest: the environment. The Tigers are playing on their home court, which drew nearly 9,000 fans for Friday’s win against No. 14 seed Hawaii.
Escaping such tough conditions would mean a third straight Sweet Sixteen appearance for the Wolverines. All that stands in the way is Mulkey, Reese and a speedy, high-scoring LSU.