No. 9 LSU Tigers will host the No. 1 South Carolina Gamecocks on Thursday, Jan. 25
The basketball world is gearing up for a much-anticipated SEC showdown between LSU and South Carolina. Although LSU has dropped to the No. 9 seed, a sellout crowd is expected for the matchup. In fact, ESPN's 'College Gameday' is headed to Baton Rouge for the colossal game. Expected to take place at the Pete Maravich Center, there will be several high-profiled analysts present, including Holly Rowe, Rebecca Lobo, Andraya Carter, Carolyn Peck, and Elle Duncan.
This time, LSU will get home court advantage, which will include quite a few festivities, in addition to College Gameday. Beginning at 3:30 p.m. CT, several notable events will take place, such as a party on the Plaza. The Pete Maravich Center (PMAC) will open it's doors at 5:30 p.m. for the 7:00 p.m. tip-off. It's the first time College Game Day will take place in Baton Rouge for a Women's basketball game.
With such a highly anticipated matchup, the most expensive ticket price on Vivid Seats goes for $1,600 in lower level 105. If you're looking to attend the matchup, the least expensive ticket price is listed as $79 in section 344 on Vivid.
Battle of the coaches: Dawn Staley vs. Kim Mulkey
As of this week, South Carolina is favored to win the NCAA Championship with +270 odds, and LSU in second with +500 odds.
The Gamecocks (18-2, 5-1 Conference) will travel to Louisiana to take on the Tigers (17-0, 5-0 Conference), who remain undefeated on the season and the Southeastern Conference. A battle between two high prolific teams, coach Dawn Staley of South Carolina will once again meet LSU coach Kim Mulkey in another face off.
Now in her 16th season as head coach of South Carolina, Staley's led the Gamecocks to two National NCAA Titles. While most predicted South Carolina would repeat as title favorites, Mulkey and the LSU Tigers were named the 2023 NCAA Champions, defeating Iowa, 102-85. After 21 seasons as the head coach of Baylor Women's Basketball, Mulkey is now in her third season with LSU and the SEC.
These two extraordinary coaches have a combined six NCAA Championship titles, and 10 Final Four appearances. With Staley extending the dynasty she has built in Columbia, Mulkey seems to be doing the same.
Thursday won't be the first matchup between these two conference rivals or the coaches. Staley hasn't forgotten when Mulkey and Baylor knocked off South Carolina in the Sweet 16 in the 2018-2019 season, and the rivalry's been brewing ever since. With two dominant coaches, how can it not?
Their last matchup came right before Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 2023. With a packed house of 18,000 fans, South Carolina defeated LSU 88-64 at their home Colonial Life Arena. Although the rosters were drastically different on both sides, the matchup generated an audience of 1.6 million. According to ESPN PR, it was the most-viewed regular season Women's NCAA basketball matchup on any network since 2010.
No.1 South Carolina's energy is unmatched
Undefeated on the season, South Carolina has monumental victories over Notre Dame, Maryland, UNC, and Utah. Out of Columbia, this team is ranked as the unanimous No.1 in this week's AP poll.
Led by Senior Kamilla Cardoso, the Gamecocks have one of the most dominant, shot blocking, rebounding center's. A double-double machine, Cardoso is averaging 13.3 points, 10.7 rebounds, 2.4 assists, and 2.9 blocks, on 61.1 percent field goal shooting.
Next to Cardoso is three-point sniper Te-Hina Paopao, who's shooting lights out from deep (55.8 percent). Last year, Staley paired Cardoso with Aliyah Boston down low. This year, 6'2 Sophomore Chloe Kitts is complimenting Cardoso quite well. With a double-big lineup, South Carolina leads NCAA Women's D1 Basketball in rebounds per game (48.65), and blocks per game (8.9).
The emergence of Raven Johnson and Milaysia Fulwiley
With Sophomore guard Raven Johnson emerging as a starter in her third year, South Carolina has additional secret weapons: Sania Feagin and star freshman Milaysia Fulwiley. Fulwiley first made headlines in November against Notre Dame, with a smooth finishing highlight. The truth of the matter, Fulwiley has always hooped like that. For a freshman, no one expected her to be this impactful so soon. As dominant as Fulwiley's been, she's doing so with confidence.
As for Johnson, this is her revenge year, after losing to Cailtin Clark and the Iowa Hawkeyes in last year's Final Four. The team's primary ball handler, No. 25 has been stifling on defense. Knowing what it takes to win, the sophomore guard is averaging a career-high 9.3 points, 3.9 rebounds, 5.3 assists, and 2.4 steals on the season.
Averaging 98.5 points in the last two games, Staley and the Gamecocks are coming off a 99-64 win over Texas A&M. Fulwiley led the team in scoring, off the bench, with a career-high 21 points. Cardoso added 17 points and 13 rebounds. Up 31 at the half, South Carolina's energy is unmatched this season.
LSU Tigers drop to the No. 9 seed
It's been a bit of a tumultuous season for LSU. Although the Tigers lost LaDashia Williams and Alex Morris to the WNBA Draft, they added Hailey Van Lith, who transferred from Louisville. In addition, Mulkey was able to recruit Aneesha Morrow from DePaul and Mikaylah Williams, the No. 2 recruit in the Freshman class. With the talent and depth of this roster, they were easily ranked as No.1 heading into the season.
18-2 on the year, the Tigers lost their season opener to No.20 Colorado 92-78, and to Auburn, 67-62. In 20 games this season, LSU defeated their only other ranked opponent, No. 9 Virginia Tech, 76-73. 9-1 in their last ten games, the Tigers are coming off a colossal 99-68 win over Arkansas.
In the dominant peformance, Williams led the team with 21 points, and Van Lith added 20. Angel Reese once again showed her dominance on the glass with 16 points and 17 rebounds.
Angel Reese is thriving after her 4-game absence
Junior Angel Reese was a key part of their championship run last season. Oddly enough, she was pulled from the lineup at halftime against Kent State back in November. From there, she went on a 4-game hiatus, citing mental health as the reason for her absence. Kateri Poole, who was also pulled from the lineup, is no longer with the team.
Although Reese hasn't been as efficient as last season, she's still shooting at a high clip, averaging 19.9 points and 12.1 rebounds. While she doesn't have a ton of range, she's an elite rebounder. In her first season with LSU, Morrow's scoring numbers have dipped, however, she remains a core part of this team. As defending champions, that's the sacrifice made by Van Lith and Morrow when they transferred in.
On the rise again, the Tigers are out for revenge after Auburn snapped their 16 game win streak. Ironically both teams are coming off dominant wins, in which they each went on 18-0 runs.
As for Reese, she knows how big of a matchup this is for not only their program, but women's basketball as a whole. “The big picture is Thursday, said Reese." "We’re ready for it.”
Battle of the Freshman: Milaysia Fulwiley vs. Mikaylah Williams
Mentioned earlier, Fulwiley is coming off a career-night against Texas A&M. Similarly, Williams was the leading scorer in her teams dominant victory over Arkansas. Two elite guards, Fulwiley has been impressive off the bench, while Williams has started all 20 games played for Mulkey.
In 20 games played this season for LSU, the No.1 recruit is averaging an impressive 16.5 points, 5.1 rebounds, 3 assists, and 1.5 blocks. A walking bucket and scoring machine, Williams is shooting well over 40 percent from deep, and 50 percent from the field. She put the nation on notice after a 42 point domination over Kent State.
A star in the making, Williams has a versatile skill set, with the ability to drive baseline and hit from long range. The real deal, Williams should matchup well with Fulwiley.
South Carolina Freshman guard Milaysia Fulwiley has turned heads this season. First in the Paris opener against Notre Dame, and now in her last matchup.
In 17 games this season, Fulwiley has shown production off the bench. Only getting the starting nod in two games, she's averaging 11.7 points, 3.0 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.5 steals, and 1.1 blocks.
Her instagram handle is laywitdabutter for a reason. Extremely athletic when driving to the hoop, her ability to score in traffic is electric. Although she's been benched by coach Staley in the past, she's shown more discipline on the defensive end. Coming off a 66.7 percent shooting performance, No. 12 will continue to improve and provide that spark off the bench.
Stay tuned for more NCAA/Women's Basketball related articles. Click here
Sara Jane Gamelli is a full-time Sportswriter, Content Creator and Social Media Manager at Ballislife. She has a focus on the NBA, WNBA, NCAA Basketball, and the NFL. Sara Jane currently resides in Connecticut/NYC area with her Cat and Dog. SJ has her undergraduate degree from the University of Connecticut in Economics, with a minor in business administration.Tweets by ballislifewbb_