LSU wrote a new chapter in its basketball record book by erasing a 12-point, second-half deficit to score the school’s first Final Four victory, 79-72 against Virginia Tech here on Friday.
Down nine points at the end of the third quarter, LSU turned up the defensive intensity and roared past the Hokies behind Alexis Morris and Angel Reese, who scored 10 points each in the quarter.
The victory continued LSU’s incredible climb back to relevance in its second season under Kim Mulkey, who won three national titles at Baylor. It’s the first victory at a Final Four in six tries for the women’s program. The men’s program has not won a Final Four game in four trips.
Morris scored 27 points while playing the full 40 minutes and Reese tied the NCAA Division I record with her 33rd double-double (24 points and 12 rebounds).
LaDazhia Williams added 16 points on 7 of 9 shooting with seven rebounds and three steals to propel LSU (33-2) into the national championship game against Iowa, which upset No. 1 South Carolina in the other semifinal, Sunday at 2:30 p.m.
“We wanted to make history,” said Reese, who transferred in from Maryland. “It’s like a dream. It still hasn’t hit me that I’m at the Final Four.”
The comeback was the biggest for LSU this season. The Tigers trailed 51-39 after a 3-pointer by Tech Kayana Traylor with 5:40 left in the third quarter. Virginia Tech still led 59-50 at the end of the third, but scored the first seven points of the fourth quarter to start a 16-3 run.
Morris hit a 3-pointer and a layup, and Reese added a layup that forced a timeout from Tech with 8:12 left. Two minutes later, Morris tied the game with a free throw, and Johnson and Poole scored layups for a 66-62 lead with 4:46. Reese scored on a putback and two free throws and Flau’jae Johnson made it 72-62 when she soared high for a rebound and putback with 3:02 left.
LSU continued to pressure the Hokies into missed shots and turnovers on the defensive end. Virginia Tech was 2 of 10 from the field in the fourth quarter and had six turnovers.
“I told them you’ve got two minutes left in the game, you’re down (nine),” Mulkey said. “You’ve got to come out smoking and on fire, play like you’re never going to play again. I didn’t want to get comfortable thinking they had a lot of time. I wanted them to pick up the pace defensively, fly to the offensive boards.”
Tech (31-5) could never get closer than six points. Elizabeth Kitley hit a pair of free throws to make it 76-70 with 34 seconds but Morris answered with two of her own.
Kitley led the Hokies with 18 points, 12 rebounds, seven blocks and three assists. Guard Georgia Amoore had 17 but was held to 4-of-17 shooting, all of her baskets 3-pointers. Traylor also had 17 and Cayla King 14.
“Our offense is not what got us back in the game,” Morris said. “It was our defense. We turned our intensity up another notch, and that’s what gave us the spark on the other end of the floor.”
LSU seemed in control after a jump shot by Morris gave the Tigers a 32-23 lead with 4:48 left in the first half, but the Tigers didn’t score again before halftime after Tech switched to zone defense. The Hokies went on a 11-0 run and went into the break ahead 34-32.
In addition to becoming the first LSU team in the finals, Mulkey became only the second coach to take two different teams to the national championship game. The other was C. Vivian Stringer with Cheyney State in 1982 and Rutgers in 2007.
Mulkey did it in her second season at LSU with one returning starter and nine new players on the roster.
“It’s a puzzle. It’s crazy we’re getting ready to play for a national championship,” Mulkey said. “I keep wanting to call somebody and go tell me how we did this in two years. I don’t know.”
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