Big personalities. Big wins. Big love. LSU’s special place in Baton Rouge

ALBANY, N.Y. — One year ago LSU went back to Baton Rouge carrying a trophy, and with it excitement and newfound fame. This time there is no trophy and no excitement. It’s been replaced by the disappointment of falling short.

It’s not the way Mikaylah Williams wanted to end her freshman season, but the Louisiana native knows what’s waiting for her when she gets home.

“I know our fans love us no matter what,” she said following her team’s Elite Eight loss to Iowa.

The partnership between LSU women’s basketball and Baton Rouge was a welcome shock for Jennifer Roberts, the Tigers’ director of player personnel and influence. She was with head coach Kim Mulkey during her tenure at Baylor as the Bears won three national titles. There were stars on those teams, too — players like Sophia Young, Brittney Griner and Odyssey Sims — and incredible success to go along with them. But the reaction to the team wasn’t anything like what she saw when the duo started coaching at LSU.

“We had great players, had the stands filled, but when Kim came to LSU, in my opinion, and I think a lot of the world’s opinion, women’s basketball went to another level.” Roberts said. “With the personalities and the players we’ve had, I feel like we’ve been able to take women’s basketball to a level it hasn’t been at.”

An hour-and-a-half down the road, in Thibodaux, Louisiana, Sierra Price, who is now a member of the Tiger band, grew up watching LSU sports. It was her dream school, and the rest of the community was thrilled about it.

“They all think it’s just the coolest thing,” Price said.

The LSU brand extends throughout all the sports teams, from baseball and football, to women’s basketball. But Price says things changed when Mulkey took over. The program just felt different.

The LSU Tigers banded together this year in more ways than one. (Andy Hancock/Getty Images)The LSU Tigers banded together this year in more ways than one. (Andy Hancock/Getty Images)
The LSU Tigers banded together this year in more ways than one. (Andy Hancock/Getty Images)

She was at Mulkey’s introductory news conference, and when the new coach started talking, the energy shifted.

“She said she was going to win a national title at LSU, and I looked around the room, and everyone believed her,” Price said.

Mulkey did that in 2023, but wins aren’t the only thing that unite the Baton Rouge community and the LSU women’s basketball team. It’s why Williams knows they will stick around through the disappointing losses, too.

Everything is over the top in Louisiana, says sophomore guard and Baton Rouge-native Izzy Besselman. Residents are gritty and hardworking, but they also know how to have fun, and they do it in a big way.

That was LSU this season.

Angel Reese brought her crown to every game for teammates to place on her head during player introductions. Flau’jae Johnson recorded music. Mulkey wore flamboyant sequined suits. The personalities were big and they were unapologetic, and the basketball was exciting. It was the perfect representation of the town Besselman grew up in.

“Louisiana knows how to have fun,” she said. “And I think our team embraces that. The program wants people to show their personalities, and being able to do that is so special. We are able to work hard, have fun and show passion.”

That’s why Johnson picked the Tigers out of high school, and why both Angel Reese and Aneesah Morrow transferred into the program. It’s why Besselman decided to stay home and join the team as a walk-on. And why Roberts was pleasantly surprised when she moved to Baton Rouge.

Roberts is from Shreveport, Louisiana, and she remembers growing up hearing about LSU and the football team. She’s been on women’s basketball coaching staffs since she graduated from Louisiana Tech in 1997. Back then she couldn’t imagine the position her sport is in now.

“You hear about LSU, you hear about the fans, but you can’t explain it until you get here,” Roberts said. “I mean they tailgate for women’s basketball games.”

They’ll do that next year, too, and though the loss is still fresh, the Tigers are already thinking about giving them something else to celebrate.

“This is how Louisiana people are,” Williams said. “We just keep fighting. We just keep working hard. This isn’t how we wanted to end the season, but now we go back to the drawing board and learn for next year.”

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