Final Four newbie Virginia Tech, Soule meet LSU, decorated Mulkey Friday night
|Published: 03-31-2023 4:51 PM
DALLAS — This Final Four is a first for Virginia Tech and coach Kenny Brooks, and he’s set to match wits with a counterpart who beat him by 42 points the last time the two met in March Madness.
LSU coach Kim Mulkey won three national championships in four trips to the Final Four with Baylor, but she doesn’t have the bevy of veterans carrying a No. 1 seed into a national semifinal Friday night.
That would be Brooks’ bunch.
“The No. 1 seed means we belong here,” he said.
The seventh-year Hokies coach might not have been thinking that two years ago after a 90-48 loss to Mulkey and the Bears in the second round.
But Georgia Amoore is a confident junior now, not the freshman who said she was shaking when Baylor’s DiDi Richards gave her a fist bump to try to boost the young Australian’s spirits after the rout.
And Elizabeth Kitley is a dominant senior, Virginia Tech’s all-time leader in points and double-doubles who’s preparing for a high-profile showdown with LSU post player Angel Reese.
West Lebanon native Taylor Soule, a graduate transfer from Boston College, also is a pivotal member of the Hokies’ rotation.
“To play against them taught us a lot,” Amoore said. “They were a mature group. They were a confident group. I think it’s translating now because we’re mature and confident and we’re playing on this stage that they did.”
Things are quite different for Mulkey, too. Not long after that game against the Hokies, Mulkey left after 21 seasons at Baylor to lead the flagship school in her home state.
The decorated Louisiana Tech point guard immediately ended LSU’s three-year tournament drought with a 26-win season before this season’s 32-2 run. The Tigers are where the Bears frequently were.
“I’m the only one in our locker room that has done this, but I’m not going to shoot, dribble, pass, guard any of them,” Mulkey said. “So it’s not a matter of what I have done.”
The Hokies (31-4) are on a 15-game winning streak, matching the longest under Brooks from his first 15 games in 2016-17.
Virginia Tech won its first Atlantic Coast Conference tournament title and has trailed for the fewest minutes in the tournament among the Final Four teams — all 9:27 coming in the 84-74 Elite Eight victory over Ohio State.
“Because of the name on the front, because it hasn’t had a history like a Tennessee or a UConn had, people are really quick to doubt you,” Brooks said. “Our kids have seen that. I love the way they’ve handled it. They’re not angry like, ‘We’re going to prove you wrong.’ They’re so confident in themselves, ‘OK, we’re going to prove ourselves right.’ We know how good we are.”
Aliyah Boston and defending champion South Carolina taking on scoring sensation Caitlin Clark and Iowa in the other semifinal will get an overload of attention.
But don’t sleep on the frontcourt clash in this game between Kitley and Reese.
The 6-foot-6 Kitley had one of the highest-scoring games in tournament history in the first round with 42 points against Florida Gulf Coast.
The 6-3 Reese was the first player with 25 points and 24 rebounds in a tournament game, doing it in a 66-42 second-round win over Michigan.
“It’s never about a matchup,” said Reese, who is averaging 22 points and 17 rebounds in the tournament. “We’re going to take her as any other post player we played all year.”
Mulkey wore the black cowboy hat handed out to players and coaches for her Final Four news conference.
She noted the irony of her first Final Four with LSU being “in a state that was very good to me, not far from an institution that was very good to me.” American Airlines Center in Dallas is about 100 miles from the Baylor campus in Waco.
Clearly, Mulkey has been in a Texas state of mind pretty soon after the 54-42 Elite Eight victory over Miami.
“They gave us these hats, and I was looking for some cowboy boots,” Mulkey said. “I was going to come in here and sing.” And then she did, a little George Strait — “All my exes live in Texas.”
“Which is true. I only have one, though,” she said, drawing laughter with the reference to ex-husband Randy Robertson.
AMOORE AND MORRIS
LSU point guard Alexis Morris, enjoying her own Texas homecoming, bristled a bit when asked about the matchup with Amoore — MVP of the ACC Tournament, most outstanding player of the Seattle 3 Regional and one of the most prolific 3-point shooters in the country.
“She’s a great player. What kind of player am I?” said Morris, who played for Mulkey at Baylor before a reunion two years later at LSU. “It’s going to be a good matchup.”
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