Coach Kim Mulkey said she really wasn’t surprised her defending national champion No. 1-ranked LSU Tigers lost their season opener 92-78 Monday to the No. 20 Colorado Buffaloes. But how the Tigers played was another story.
“I’m disappointed and surprised in some individual players that I thought would just be tougher and have a little fight and leadership about them,” Mulkey said. “But I knew what we faced. When you have that many kids that played that many minutes together [as Colorado], we had our hands full. Colorado did exactly what I thought they would do.
“You live with poor shooting, you live with a tough night offensively. What I don’t live with is just guts and fight and physical play [not being there]. I just didn’t think we had that tonight. This is not going to devastate us. Chicken Little said the sun will come out tomorrow, didn’t he?”
Actually, Chicken Little was more of the opinion that the sky was falling, but Mulkey definitely doesn’t think that.
“Those things I described are fixable,” Mulkey said. “But I don’t know how long it’s going to take to fix it.”
The Buffs made the Sweet 16 last season, falling to eventual national runner-up Iowa. The Hawkeyes then lost to LSU in the national championship game. With LSU bringing back Final Four Most Outstanding Player Angel Reese and adding the top two projected transfers in forward Aneesah Morrow and guard Hailey Van Lith, plus a top recruiting class, the Tigers were preseason favorites to repeat.
But the loss of experienced starting point guard Alexis Morris to graduation was one of the things LSU felt on Monday, as the Buffs took control in the second quarter and never let up. Center Aaronette Vonleh (24 points) and guards Frida Formann (27 points) and Jaylyn Sherrod (19 points, 6 assists) led the way for Colorado.
Mulkey said she thought Sherrod was the catalyst. The Tigers couldn’t stay in front of her defensively on the perimeter, and their second line of defense was, Mulkey said, “nonexistent.”
“We were very poised, we stayed together, we knew we could do it,” Sherrod, a senior, said. “We’ve come a long way; when I first got here, this team wasn’t where it is.”
Indeed, Colorado had just one NCAA tournament appearance between 2005 and 2021. But under coach JR Payne, the Buffs returned to the Big Dance the past two years and now have a signature win to start this season.
For LSU, which was led by 17 points from freshman Mikaylah Williams and 16 from sophomore Sa’Myah Smith, it’s a very early wake-up call. Reese had 15 points and 12 rebounds, and Van Lith 14 points and 7 assists.
Mulkey did not specify which individual players she was disappointed with but did say as a team the Tigers did not match the Buffs’ hunger and intensity.
“I thought [Williams] and Sa’Myah Smith did all they could,” she said. “You’re talking about a true freshman and a true sophomore. We need more than just them to have a little bit of fight.
“We’re not the same team today we were when we won it all. I don’t know if anything that went on this summer [with new players transferring in] has anything whatsoever to do with [our] locker room. I think [our] locker room is affected by Colorado being a very good team.”