By Arnie Leshin
If her team got a kick out of her feisty and flamboyant different clothing outfit every game, it showed it via Sunday’s 102-85 triumph over Iowa.
Piecing together top to bottom outfits began in Kim Mulkey’s second season as head coach of Louisiana State, where before that the former point guard’s methods reeled in three national championships in her 21 years at Baylor.
Now she had a record fourth, now she had a new dressed-up edition that wrapped up the Bayou Tigers’ initial NCAA hoops title, for never had the Baton Rugue school won it in either gender.
Yup, this one comes all dolled up with her 3rd-seeded team’s dandy 34-2 overall record. On this night at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, she dressed up her sidelines with a blazing sprinkled pink top and darker pink bottoms tucked in.
Her first display for this level of the March Madness was a purple and gold sparkling top to bottom outfit.
Next game, a bright yellow top with a same-color collar and purple pants. Then came the springled designed white top to go with another set of purple trousers.
Losing only twice should have brought her a more deserved seed. There was the embarrassing loss, 88-64, to South Carolina that was a start to finish rout. The other was five games later, a tight 69-67 setback against Tennessee.
Up to the Gamecocks’ game, LSU Had won 18 straight.
This match-up did shape up well at the start. It was close, four ties and five lead changes. It was the well-balanced LSU team with more size versus the talented Big 12 team seeded No. 2 and led by 6-foot All-America junior Caitlin Clark.
It was at 16-16 when Mulkey’s purple and gold women went on a 12-2 run at the 2:38 mark of the first quarter to go up 24-18. The quarter closed out with LSU in front 27-22.
Clark, who was to set an NCAA tournament record with her point making, had 13 points at the time, then had 19 at the intermission but her outplayed team was down a huge 59-42, a tourney halftime record for one team.
What set the spark was a 9 for 14 burst from beyond the arc. Twice, the Hawkeyes called time out. Back on the floor, Clark found the range for a trio of 3s and four free throws.
But then they became ice cold midway through the third quarter and Clark grew upset, frustrated. When one of her teammates, Kate Martin, was called for a personal foul, Clark erupted, gave the referee a little push and was handed a technical foul, her third of the game.
Iowa did outscore the Bayou Tigers 22-16 in that quarter, but the fourth quarter kept it at bay, LSU continued to take charge underneath piling up an advantage there.
Showing the way for it was 6-6 senior LaDazhia Williams with 20 points and 17 boards. Alexis Morris, a 5-6 senior, added 21 points and nine assists, and 6-4 senior forward Jasmine Carson contributed the team-high 22 points.
Iowa made a slight jump but Clark picked up her fourth personal foul early in the final quarter as she picked up a charge on what would been her 30th point. She did score it when the Hawkeyes cut the lead from 93-78 to 93-87, but no closer.
It was all but the celebration. As for Mulkey, she heard plenty of cheers and salutes from her LSU supporters, and even took a bow one time.
It was once again a huge turnout that totaled over 20,000 fans at NRG Stadium in Dallas.
Clark, still a junior, had the game-high 30 points and can prepare for a high spot in the NBA college draft. She scored a record 71 points in these three tournament games, she provided the team leadership, but her side had a tough time keeping the taller Tigers off the backboards.
As for Mulkey’s hoops background, she became only the second head coach to take two different teams to the national title game.
She had plenty of hugs for Williams and 5-8 sophomore Jalina Franklin, who made 5-of-8 from beyond the arc and totaled 17 points.
For Iowa, it was Clark as her usual self with also nine rebounds and seven assists, while senior teammates Martin and Monika Czinano contributed 13 points.
Its other defeats were to Kansas State, UConn, North Carolina State, Illinois, Indiana, and to Maryland, a huge away loss by 37 points.