Baseball

LSU’s Angel Reese available to play in Final Four rematch vs. Virginia Tech

LSU women’s basketball star Angel Reese will be available to play against No. 9 Virginia Tech on Thursday, coach Kim Mulkey said Wednesday. Reese has missed four straight games for the No. 7 Tigers.

Reese hasn’t played since being benched in the second half of LSU’s win over Kent State on Nov. 14. Mulkey has declined to provide much detail about Reese’s absence.

When asked for an explanation following LSU’s win over Kent State, Mulkey said she “could” provide one, “but I won’t. It was just a coach’s decision.” After its  victory over Southeastern Louisiana on Nov. 17, Mulkey addressed Reese’s absence by saying, “It’s very obvious Angel was not in uniform. Angel is a part of this basketball team, and we hope to see her sooner rather than later.”

Following the Tigers’ win over Texas Southern on Nov. 20, Mulkey added, “You always have to deal with locker room issues. That’s just part of coaching.” Reese, the Most Outstanding Player at last year’s Final Four, was not with the program for its two games at the Cayman Islands Classic last weekend against Niagara and Virginia.

Through four games this season, Reese is averaging 17 points and 10.3 rebounds per contest while shooting 46.9 percent.

Mulkey also said Wednesday reserve guard Kateri Poole — who was also benched in the Kent State game and has played limited minutes since — is still not with the team, and forward Sa’Myah Smith is done for the season with a torn MCL, ACL and meniscus.

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Rumors swirl as LSU coach Kim Mulkey says little about Angel Reese’s absence

What to look for in Reese’s return

The same thing I was looking for before her absence and during her absence: LSU’s overall flow. From the beginning, we knew LSU was going to take longer to come together on the floor because of the number of new key players and because this program didn’t take an offseason foreign trip (which would’ve allowed the Tigers 10 extra practices over the summer). Through seven games, LSU hasn’t established a consistent flow. Part of that has been because of player availability, but even when every player was available, that flow didn’t consistently show up. So, in a game against a strong Virginia Tech team, can LSU mesh through 40 minutes in a way we haven’t seen yet this season?

I’ll also be looking at Reese’s minutes load. She hasn’t played in a game in more than two weeks, but Mulkey did say Reese had been practicing. (She didn’t specify for how long.) With Smith’s injury, Reese’s minutes likely will need to increase overall this season. In terms of Thursday night’s game, it’ll be interesting to see exactly how much run Reese gets. — Chantel Jennings, women’s basketball senior writer

How much will LSU miss Smith?

Greatly. The sophomore had started the 2023-24 season strongly, averaging 12 points and eight rebounds a game. The Tigers will miss her length on both ends of the floor, but especially on the offensive glass where she was cleaning up this season.

The Tigers’ depth at forward was already pretty thin, so her absence will mean an even heavier reliance on Reese and Aneesah Morrow, who haven’t shown great on-court chemistry yet this season — even in the games in which both played. Smith’s minutes could go to a number of players. The Tigers are more guard-heavy, so we could see them opt for a smaller lineup. But, against larger SEC teams, it likely means that either junior Amani Bartlett — who has averaged less than six minutes per game this season — will be thrown into the heavy rotation or that LSU will be relying even more heavily on 6-foot-6 freshman Aalyah Del Rosario to play minutes in the paint.

Against Virginia Tech, it’ll be interesting to see which direction the Tigers go — especially in the starting lineup — to deal with 6-6 All-American Elizabeth Kitley. Seems like there’s a decent chance LSU opts for Del Rosario in order to contend with Kitley’s height, and the Tigers will adjust elsewhere as the game goes on. — Jennings

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(Photo: Ethan Miller / Getty Images)

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