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LSU Women's Hoops ready for the smoke against Utah

Angel Reese among the headliners in Greenville 2 region.
SLE Smoke Angel.jpg
Posted at 12:12 AM, Mar 24, 2023

GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) — No one has been able to keep up with Villanova's Maddy Siegrist all season. LSU's Angel Reese has been putting up her own video-game numbers with unrelenting and remarkable consistency.

They're both Associated Press All-America first-team picks. And they're headlining the Greenville 2 Region bracket entering Friday's Sweet 16 games, providing star power to the doubleheader at a valuable time in the shared March Madness national spotlight.

“I think it's awesome,” Siegrist said Thursday. “It's so important to have female sports really on the forefront right now and to inspire the younger generation. I'm just happy to be a part of it.”

Siegrist and the fourth-seeded Wildcats meet ninth-seeded Miami in the first regional semifinal. Reese and the third-seeded Tigers meet second-seeded Utah, which is led by a second-team AP All-American in Alissa Pili. The winners meet Sunday for a Final Four ticket.

Siegrist, a 6-foot-2 senior, averages a national-best 29.2 points. She joined fellow first-team AP All-American Caitlin Clark of Iowa, third-team pick Aneesah Morrow of DePaul and Drexel’s Keishana Washington as the only players with multiple games of at least 40 points this year.

Reese, a 6-3 sophomore, is fifth nationally in scoring (23.8), second in rebounding (15.7) and first in double-doubles (30). That includes a 26-point, 28-rebound performance against Texas A&M, the most boards in Division I this year.

“To have those types of players draw attention to the sport is awesome,” LSU coach Kim Mulkey said. “50 points in a game, not many do that. The young lady at Villanova, Siegrist, she’s done that. To win national championships like South Carolina, not many have done that. Boston can leave here and say she’s done that.

"Angel Reese would like to do what Boston has done for South Carolina.”

In all, nine AP All-Americans are healthy enough to play for their teams that are still alive. Six of those players are in Greenville, including South Carolina's Aaliyah Boston and Zia Cooke. Maryland's Diamond Miller is in the other bracket here in the NCAA's new double-regional format.

The Greenville 2 bracket is the only one with two first-team All-Americans. Their games come as the sport sees gains in TV ratings. Talk about a nice platform to promote the sport.

“I embrace it,” Reese said, adding: “You've got NBA players, celebrities watching our games, being able to tune in. ... It's just fun being able to help grow women's basketball, and this is bigger than me.”

LONG WAITS

The quartet of teams waited years to return to the regional rounds.

LSU (30-2) is the most recent to reach the Sweet 16 in 2014. Utah (27-4) is here for the first time since reaching the Elite Eight in 2006. Villanova (30-6) won multiple games in the same NCAA Tournament only once before, during a 2003 run to the Elite Eight.

And for Miami (21-12), the program’s lone Sweet 16 trip came in 1992.

HARDEN'S HEROICS

Destiny Harden looks at ease in March.

Miami's 6-foot graduate guard made the go-ahead late shot to stun 1-seed Indiana on its home court Monday. It marked the second time in roughly a year that she came through in the clutch.

Last March, Harden pulled off the one-woman comeback — equal parts incredible and improbable — to beat highly ranked Louisville in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament.

“She's got those big eyes,” Miami coach Katie Meier said. “She just has them, and they're big as saucers. And when she's really locked in, they just get bigger and bigger. ... Destiny is never going to let you down.”

The Louisville comeback was more than just one shot. It was Harden scoring the game's last 15 points to erase a huge deficit, the last coming on a turnaround jumper at the horn.

Still, Harden said the Indiana shot was bigger “because this is March Madness.”

“Those were the biggest shots I ever got in my life,” Harden said. “It’s just incredible just to deliver for my team.”

MONSTROUS EXPECTATIONS

Mulkey took over an LSU program that had missed two straight NCAA Tournaments, and she's already 56-8 in two seasons. That creates the challenge for fans to “keep perspective” that more work is ahead.

“I don’t think anybody could be fair and say that we were going to do this in two years or even do what we did last year in the first year," she said, adding: "We're doing things at a very fast pace. Might be feeding that monster too quickly, but it sure beats the heck out of losing.”

‘A PART OF IT'

Villanova has felt the emotional lift from Rachel Grace, a four-year team manager with Down syndrome.

The program tweeted in honor of “RG” on Tuesday for World Down Syndrome Day, calling her Villanova's “heart and soul." Coach Denise Dillon said Grace would attend Friday's game.

"She knows the game," Dillon said. “She’s a part of it. She’s every bit a part of our program to the highest level. Just to be a part of her life and to have her a part of the Villanova community is really cool.”

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