During her introductory press conference on April 21, 2021, Kim Mulkey told those in attendance to take a second to look around the room.
"I made a statement and asked everybody to turn around and look at those Final Four banners," she recounted. "Nowhere on there did it say 'national champions,' and that's what I came home to do."
Even though her time at Baylor was wildly successful, Mulkey thought it was time to go home, back to where it all started for her. When she took the job, she knew she wanted it to bring the first basketball national title -- men's or women's -- to the school, but she didn't know how soon it would actually happen.
"Are we ahead of schedule?" Mulkey said in a press conference before the title game. "I think it's obvious we're ahead of schedule. We're sitting here playing for the national championship."
But there is no specific timeline when it comes to success, and the Tigers proved it by lifting the 2023 NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament trophy after a 102-85 win over the Iowa Hawkeyes.
The Tigers started the season with a 23-0 record, the longest streak in program history. There were those who said LSU's strength of schedule was weak, but the Tigers paid no attention and stayed true to themselves. They went on to finish their 2022-23 campaign with 34 wins and just two losses.
Angel Reese -- who transferred from Maryland last season -- said she trusted Mulkey could take her game to another level, but she was still surprised by how the season ended on Sunday.
"I had so many goals coming into LSU, but I didn't think I was going to win a national championship within my first year at LSU," she said. "I'm just happy for this team. Coach Mulkey, I appreciate you. I can't thank you enough for this opportunity to play under you and get better."
The sophomore forward led the team with impressive stats all season long while registering a total of 34 double-doubles -- an NCAA single season record. That last one was the 15 points and 10 rebounds she got against the Hawkeyes on her way to being named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player. Fifth-year guard Alexis Morris had a huge games too, including assisting or scoring in 27 second-half points for LSU.
But LSU won thanks to players who don't usually get the spotlight. The Tigers' bench outscored Iowa's 30-8, and the name that will be remembered for years to come is Jasmine Carson. She dropped 21 points -- including a first half buzzer-beater -- to give her team a 59-42 edge at the break. The senior guard, coming off the bench, didn't miss a single one of her seven field goal attempts in the first two quarters, including five from beyond the arc. She finished the night with a team-high 22 points.
Nobody saw this coming because she had entered the game 3-for-16 on 3-point attempts in the tournament and 4-for-21 from the field. Morris described Carson as the "game changer" by being the one who gave the team a "huge spark."
As for Carson, she was asked to introduce herself during the press conference for those who might have not been paying attention to her until tonight.
"I'm Jasmine. I've been working hard my whole life. I came to LSU just to contribute and win a national title and play under a Hall of Fame coach and play with great players," she said. "Hard work pays off, and God is great. Everybody's journey is different, and you should just embrace your journey. I couldn't have wanted a better ending than for it to end like this."
Mulkey talked about her usual starters in the postgame press conference, but she paid major respect to the players coming off the bench.
"The game was won, in my opinion, in the second quarter when those three young ladies -- Sa'Myah Smith, a freshman, Last-Tear Poa, a first-time transfer from junior college, and Jasmine Carson, her last and only year playing for me," she said. "When those guys got in there and they extended the lead and scored with Iowa, I thought this is going to be a fun night. They didn't just keep it close. They went in, and they attacked."
There were four Tigers in double-figures, led by Carson's 22 points. Alexis Morris and LaDazhia Williams followed with 21 and 20 points, respectively. Every LSU player who was on the floor on Sunday scored at least one field goal.
Iowa came in as the top offensive team in the nation, but LSU -- a team that focuses on defense and rebounds -- stepped up to the challenge. Their 102 points broke the NCAA women's title game record. That was also their sixth 100+ point game this season, the most ever for the program.
Mulkey is now 4-for-4 in title game appearances (Baylor in 2005, 2012 and 2019, and LSU in 2023). Sunday's win helped her became the first women's basketball coach to win NCAA championships with multiple programs. However, this one was extra special for her. There was a sellout crowd witnessing the Tigers make history, and among those fans were some of Mulkey's former players.
"To walk down the hall and see my former Baylor players that won championships with me, waiting for me. To look in the stands and see my former Louisiana Tech players, it's emotional. It's emotional," she said. "I am so happy. I really don't know how to explain it. Just a deep gratitude and happiness. Yes, it does matter being back home."
Earlier in the week Mulkey said she was not ready to use the word "powerhouse" to describe LSU anytime soon, but she does feel confident her team will be able to compete again next season.
"We lose four outstanding seniors, but the core of your group are young and underclass, and you hope they stay," the coach said. "Lord knows, every time you turn around, you've got to deal with people in the transfer portal, but you signed the No. 1 recruiting class in the country. And that was before we won a national championship."
Mulkey said her team is still going to keep working and chase other goals such as an SEC Championship. She strongly believes in her team, but she did give a friendly warning to the media.
"I don't want one negative thing written if we don't win a national championship next year, okay?" she said. "I'm telling you all in advance, they're hard to do."
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