Hailey Van Lith began second half on LSU bench vs Middle Tennessee – and reason still unexplained

LSU women’s basketball head coach Kim Mulkey left guard Hailey Van Lith on the bench out of the halftime locker room against Middle Tennessee on Sunday. As noted by the TV broadcast, Van Lith appeared emotional watching the NCAA Tournament second-round game from afar, though she eventually returned to the court in a comeback 83-56 win.

Van Lith, a transfer from Louisville, arrived at LSU hoping to help the Tigers to a deep March Madness run. However, she’s struggled so far in the competition. The 22-year-old, who wasn’t injured, eventually re-entered the game more than six minutes into the third quarter – and Mulkey was pleased with what she saw upon the return.

“That child worked her rear-end off in the second half defensively,” Mulkey told reporters without giving a direct reason for why Van Lith didn’t start the second half. “She set the tone for us to pick our energy up on the defensive end.”

Van Lith failed to score in the first half, and Middle Tennessee entered the break with a lead. Last-Tear Poa started the second half in her place before Van Lith eventually found her way back in the game.

Mulkey has asked Van Lith to pick up more playmaking duties than she carried at Louisville, where she was used more as a score-first guard. That request has yielded inconsistent results, though Van Lith has been far from the only issue during a rocky national title defense.

And last month, Mulkey defended Van Lith against critics following a late-season win over Tennessee. “Hailey’s taken a lot of criticism, and it needs to stop,” Mulkey said at the time. “She’s learning a new position. She’s on the top team in the country, the defending national champions. “

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