How Angel Reese’s fire ignites LSU’s March Madness mission

ANGEL REESE CATCHES a pass just beyond the free throw line, steps into the shot and lets it fly over South Carolina center Kamilla Cardoso’s outstretched hand.

The LSU superstar drains the jumper — not the type of bucket she’s known for — to tie the SEC championship game earlier this month. She holds her follow-through as she backpedals down the court.

On the other end of the floor in Greenville, South Carolina, Reese bangs her body against Cardoso’s.

As Cardoso turns to try to post Reese up, Reese pushes her forearm into Cardoso’s back. Cardoso disengages, and Reese starts talking.

And keeps talking. She jaws at Cardoso and nods her head. Cardoso responds with a smile and bumps her way back into the lane.

Reese keeps pushing, and LSU forward Aneesah Morrow makes a steal and sprints for a breakaway layup.

Kamilla Cardoso, left, and South Carolina have supplanted Angel Reese and LSU as the favorites to win the championship, and it doesn’t sit well with Reese. AP Photo/Chris Carlson
Reese vs. Cardoso is just getting started.

Halfway through the second quarter, Flau’jae Johnson shoots a 3-pointer from the wing and Cardoso turns around to box out Reese

. Quick on her feet, Reese sees the ball approaching the hoop and circles away from Cardoso.

When the ball drops through the net, Reese stretches out her left arm, grabs a fistful of Cardoso’s hair and tugs as she trots away.

During the next LSU possession, Reese cuts through the lane and heads for the block.

With two hands, Cardoso shoves her in the back. Reese pivots and throws an elbow into Cardoso’s face. Reese is called for an offensive foul and it’s upgraded to an intentional.

It’s her second foul of the game. She heads to the bench.

They’re far from finished.

With just over four minutes to go in the game and South Carolina leading by one, Gamecocks guard Raven Johnson pulls up for a jumper. Tangled up with Cardoso, Reese stretches out a hand to contest. Cardoso tries to get around Reese, but Reese catches her in the mouth with her arm and busts open her lip.

Cardoso’s lip is still bloody when, two game minutes later, she body checks Flau’jae Johnson near half court when a dust-up breaks out. Cardoso is ejected, along with nearly the entire benches of both teams after players swarmed to the action. Reese, the newly minted SEC player of the year, stands off to the side. She never joins the scuffle. Instead, she limps to the end of the bench and sits down to talk to a trainer.

“As a person at my STATUS, sometimes you have to walk away from certain situations,” Reese posts on X after LSU’s 79-72 loss. “Mind you the play before that I had rolled my ankle AGAIN and was already walking to the bench. I ALWAYS ride for mine. I’m super proud of this team & super excited for march.”

Along with her prowess in the paint, Reese brings a heavy supply of charisma to the court. Ethan Miller/Getty Images
March is now. Now was supposed to be the time when Reese and LSU, after dominating the transfer portal and adding established stars Hailey Van Lith and Morrow, were favored to repeat as national champions.

Now was supposed to be the time when the magnetic Reese and her queen’s crown and her Bayou Barbie alter ego and her passionate celebrations and her jovial dances once again captivated fans across the country.

Instead, it’s South Carolina that is undefeated and the consensus favorite to win it all, and Cardoso is a projected WNBA lottery pick. Meanwhile, LSU enters the tournament as a No. 3 seed, and on- and off-court concerns have left Reese’s WNBA stock fluid.

Reese despises all of those things. She wants to win. Always. She wants to be the best. She wants to have the last word. She wants to be authentic. She wants to be a role model. She wants to be the face of basketball. This drive, this fire, burns white hot.

For LSU to successfully defend its national championship — a task that feels much more difficult today than it did before the season started — Reese will need to strike the right balance between fire and fun. She has done it before, but now, with the weight of expectations and the bright spotlight trained on her, can she do it again?

“I think people don’t realize I can do 10,000 things and still be good at all of them,” Reese says. Adam Hagy/ESPN Images
THE BATTLE BETWEEN Reese and Cardoso doesn’t come as a surprise to me. Sitting in an empty Pete Maravich Assembly Center six weeks before the conference title game, Reese is already talking about Cardoso.

South Carolina came into the PMAC on Jan. 25 and beat LSU 76-70. Reese fouled out of that game with four minutes to go, and afterward posted on X, “I’m a DAWG. Respect me. This game was on me but I’m rocking with my girls day in & day out.”

When I ask Reese about that post, it’s Cardoso she talks about. “That game, that was one that was on my calendar, because when somebody tells me that they think that somebody else is better than me, and supposedly Kamilla was supposed to just dog-walk me all night, and mop me with the floor, and all this stuff,” she says.

“So I had posted because we were the only team that has held them to what? We lost by six. Us being able to do that on our home court was something.”

Wearing a hot pink jacket and gray sweatpants, she’s nearly spitting when she says “dog-walk.” Reese hates it when she feels disrespected.

Two days ago in Starkville, Mississippi State handed LSU its fourth loss and second consecutive SEC setback. It’s another low point in a season that has seen its share. It’s January and a title defense in March seems eons away.

This trip to Baton Rouge is part of my mission to get a better understanding of the woman who has transcended basketball. Her calendar is crammed, so I take my minutes where I can. Colorado Springs, Baltimore, Baton Rouge, Las Vegas, Starkville.

I want to figure out why Reese elicits such strong emotions. To understand how those emotions could be so different from person to person. To understand the fire and the fun that coexists within her. And how they impact LSU’s chances.

In our half-hour interview, Reese talks about lots of things: the similarities between Baltimore and Baton Rouge (they’re more similar than you think), where she learned to cook (her grandfather), what’s on her vision board (making 8-figures, retiring her mom and starting a hair and lash business, among other things), and, of course, Cardoso.

But before we finish, I ask her why — despite all the fame and praise and accolades she has received since leading LSU to the 2023 national title and being named Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four — she still feels underestimated.

“I want people to underestimate me,” she says. “I’m telling you, I have everything bookmarked for the right moment when everything just falls right into my hands.”

She has seen the critical posts on social media about her battles with opponents, her commitment to the game, her big personality.

“They said I was too worried about social media, my GPA was low, I was pregnant,” she emphasizes the last part with an incredulous scrunch of her face. “Yeah, my stats have gone down maybe four to five points because I’m on a way better team this year.

But I’m still averaging a double-double every game. I think people don’t realize I can do 10,000 things and still be good at all of them. And I can’t wait till just everything just falls right into place.”

Reese says it with a smile, but that doesn’t mask the hint at revenge, at vindication. She relishes every opportunity to prove her doubters wrong.

She has said what needs to be said. She gets up and walks away.

Reese points to her childhood in Baltimore to explain how she became one of the elite trash-talkers in the game. Top: Mitchell Layton/Getty Images, Bottom: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
IF THE BAYOU is where Reese blossomed, then Baltimore made her. Starting with knock-down, drag-out one-on-one matchups against her brother, Julian, now a 6-foot-9 junior forward at the University of Maryland.

“[It] just got a little too much for my mom,” Julian says. “She didn’t really like it.”

“My mom had to take [the hoop] down because me and him used to literally go at it and kill each other,” Angel says.

Julian and Angel played together through their childhoods, and were coached by their mom, who played at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. Angel also played in a coed youth league at a local recreation center and pickup at outdoor courts.

“I played with the boys and my brother,” Angel says. “I used to win all the time. And I used to trash talk. They hated it.”

The trash talk, hurled at opponents and teammates alike, has become inextricable from who Reese is as a basketball player. She likes it that way. She talks about the trash talk and Baltimore as being integral to who she is anytime she’s asked. “Growing up and from Baltimore, that’s what we do there,” Reese says.

“If you aren’t talking trash, they take advantage of you,” one of Reese’s high school coaches, Nyke Burrell, says. “They size you up. You’re not really gritty. You’re backing down if you don’t talk back. It’s a cultural thing here in Baltimore.”


Reese went to high school at St. Frances, in the heart of the city, surrounded by blighted row houses and in the shadow of the high-arching walls of the city jail. She was awarded a scholarship that covered her tuition and started as a freshman.

But she was skinny and sometimes was pushed around at practice. “There’d be practices where Angel cried because she was a freshman,” Burrell says. “She had to be about 6-3, 100 pounds soaking wet at that time. And so, she got shoved around. But she had the will to win.”

“I think that’s why I’m so hungry,” Reese says. “That’s why I’m always so competitive, have a really competitive edge. I know where I come from, back to my high school, just going into a rougher area which is Baltimore and having to kind of get it out the mud and having a chip on my shoulder.”

Her competitive edge cuts both ways. During her junior year of high school, Reese earned a three-game suspension after getting into a fight with an opposing player during a scrimmage. Reese also helped St. Frances win multiple IAAM “A” Conference championships.

Her No. 10 jersey was retired by the school. Reese has donated money to the school to cover the tuition — which amounts to $12,000 per year — for one student, as was done for her.

“It means a lot,” Burrell says. “And she knows it. She knows how much we struggle with that. She knows how much it takes to support those students who aren’t able to pay those kind of funds.”

Reese, who was the No. 2 recruit in the nation, stayed close to home for her first two years of college, attending the University of Maryland. She missed most of her freshman season because of a foot injury, something she describes as “humbling” and her “rock bottom.”

“I didn’t want to play basketball anymore,” she says. “Mentally, it was tough.”

But she returned for her sophomore year and had a breakout season. She averaged a double-double and led the Terrapins to the Sweet 16, where they lost to Stanford. Reese had 25 points, 9 rebounds, 3 blocks and 3 steals.

“Her passion is what separates her,” former Maryland teammate Katie Benzan says. “Angel’s edge is what makes her so good. If you think about Kobe Bryant or Diana Taurasi or even Caitlin Clark, they all play with that same edge.”

After the season, five Terrapins entered the transfer portal. Reese was one of them. “I think it was just time for me to see something different,” she says. The first-team All-Big Ten honoree packed her fire and her fun and went to LSU.

All sorts of doors opened for Reese after she led LSU to the national championship, including the one at the White House. Jack Gruber-USA TODAY
AS THE CLOCK wound down in the 2023 national championship game at American Airlines Center in Dallas, the LSU celebration began. LSU players danced on the court, pointing to their ring fingers. Reese, who had 15 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals in the 102-85 win, laughed the loudest.

She waved her hand in front of her face in the direction of Clark in an imitation of a similar celebration Clark did two games earlier. Those two celebrations taken together went viral on social media and transformed Reese’s life.

Reese was called “classless,” and an “idiot.” The criticism flourished on social media, launching a racially charged discourse. LSU, with its all-Black starting five, had just defeated tournament darling Iowa, which was predominantly white.

It was impossible to separate that contrast from the criticism directed at Reese, especially because Clark did not receive the same level of pushback. Reese called out the disparity immediately.

“All year, I was critiqued for who I was. I don’t fit the narrative,” Reese said in a news conference following the game. “I don’t fit the box that you all want me to be in. I’m too hood. I’m too ghetto. You all told me that all year. But when other people do it, and you all don’t say nothing.

So this is for the girls that look like me. For those that want to speak up for what they believe in.”

With unorthodox talent and an abundance of passion, Reese was the undisputed motor behind LSU’s unexpected run to the national championship. She’s unapologetic for who she is and how she plays. That is celebrated by some, but it is hated by others.

“She gave life and a way to enter into, in many ways, a proxy culture war,” says Amira Rose Davis, an assistant professor of African and African Diaspora Studies at the University of Texas and former LSU guard Alexis Morris’ first cousin.

“Angel, herself, as a player, as a person, as somebody who never shied away from anything, became the avatar for these much longer, deeper historical kinds of narratives.”

Opportunities poured in.

She posed in a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue. She appeared in a music video with Latto and Cardi B. She won a BET Award. She visited the White House. She’s selling her own merch at Dick’s Sporting Goods. You should see the mammoth display in the Baton Rouge store.

Reese attained a level of social media fame not ever seen in women’s basketball. With 2.7 million Instagram followers, she’s more popular than Josh Allen and Justin Jefferson. She has a larger following than Caitlin Clark, Paige Bueckers and Cameron Brink combined. She has another 2.7 million on TikTok.

She returned to Baltimore, where there’s a court in Randallstown named after her. Reese hosted a camp with fellow St. Frances alum Angel McCoughtry over the summer. The city embraced her celebrity and claimed her as one of its own.

She hosted an event in collaboration with DTLR Radio that raised money for her foundation by selling her Bayou Barbie merchandise, signing autographs and taking pictures. Fans, including many young girls with big dreams, showed up an hour before the event started. The line wound down the strip mall and blocked other storefronts.

The next day, Reese was awarded a key to the city by Mayor Brandon Scott. She stood next to Scott to accept the award, towering over him in her black vest and trousers.

“By presenting this Key to the City, we’re championing one of our own, who will continue to serve as a positive influence on our city, our young people and our love of sports,” Scott said at the ceremony.

Later that night, she threw out the first pitch at a Baltimore Orioles game with her No. 10 Orioles jersey tied at her waist. She waved to the crowd.

Despite her fame and fortune, Reese still feels like she has something to prove on the court. “She wants to get better,” USA Basketball coach Kamie Ethridge says. Eakin Howard/Getty Images
REESE RUNS UP and down a quiet court in a nearly empty gym at the United States Olympic and Paralympic training center in Colorado Springs. It’s June 26, 2023, and 85 whirlwind days have come and gone since the biggest game of her life changed it forever.

There’s no crowd, no outside noise, just the sounds of sneakers squeaking against hardwood and the smattering of claps from players. Reese, who had previously been invited to Team USA tryouts but had never made a roster, sports the single leg sleeve she typically wears during games and a No. 39 practice jersey. She has her braids pulled back in a long ponytail. Lashes on. Shorts rolled.

She leaps and extends to grab a lob pass. She finishes over her defender with ease. She moves around the court confidently. She checks in with her teammates after a miscue sends the ball out of bounds. Later, when she and Janiah Barker rush to the ball as it drifts out of bounds, both players plead their cases and playfully argue that it was the other one who hit the ball last. Reese wins.

During a scrimmage, Kamie Ethridge, the team’s head coach, pulls Reese off the floor after the other team scores on a fast break. “That’s not running hard enough, Angel,” she says as Angel walks off the floor. Reese takes a swig of water and walks to the end of the bench. But she stands and cheers on her teammates.

In a moment of direct, and vocal coaching, I wondered how Reese would respond.

When she gets back in, Reese boxes out and grabs a rebound. She sprints down the floor.

“You never know if players at that level really want to be coached,” Ethridge says after practice. “She wants to be told she’s doing something wrong. She wants to get better.”

LSU coach Kim Mulkey and Reese have had their moments, but Mulkey knows LSU’s hopes for a repeat rest on Reese’s shoulders. Eakin Howard/Getty Images
Sitting on the bench after practice, Reese takes a breath. The attention, the accolades, the chatter on social media, it has all been a lot in the nearly three months since the national championship game. Cardi B added a line about LSU in a rap song she did with Latto.

“I been ballin’ so damn hard, could’ve went to LSU.”

Reese has been ballin’. She got a new Mercedes-Benz. She has been traveling all over the country. But she’s quick to mention that she has also been ballin’ as in actually playing basketball. She has heard what some people have been saying about her rise to fame.

“I work out,” she says emphatically. “People think I don’t. People think that I’m just living this celebrity life, that I don’t do anything. No. I’m finding a gym wherever I’m going. So, there’s no off time. I wouldn’t have made this team just walking in here.”

If “people” are going to talk to her, Reese will talk back. It’s who she is both on and off the court. She’s ready to prove her doubters wrong when she gets back on the court in an LSU jersey in the fall. March may be nine months away, but she’s already eager for her encore.

LSU COACH KIM MULKEY enters the news conference with a frown etched on her face. She’s flanked by freshman Mikaylah Williams, a decision that is surprising after the Tigers’ stunning opening-game 92-78 loss to Colorado in November.

Reese had 15 points and 12 rebounds, but Mulkey calls out her team’s lack of leadership. “I’m disappointed and surprised in some of our individual players that I thought would just be tougher and have a little fight and leadership about them,” Mulkey says. “I thought [Williams] and Sa’Myah Smith did all they could. We needed more than those two to have a little bit of fight.”

Notably not mentioned as someone who “did all she could”: Angel Reese.

I ask Mulkey to elaborate. “I’m not going to call out players if that’s what you want me to do,” she says.

This loss can just be a bump in the road, a blemish along the way to a repeat championship, but by the fourth game of the season, it’s clear something significant is amiss.

With a two-point lead at halftime against Kent State, LSU takes the floor to start the third quarter without Reese. She doesn’t play at all in the second half. Reese doesn’t sit on the bench. She’s just not there. The most visible college basketball player of the past seven months has suddenly, inexplicably disappeared.

She isn’t with the team when LSU travels to Southeastern Louisiana three days later. She doesn’t play against Texas Southern three days after that.

Everyone — fans and haters alike — is desperate for information about why Reese has gone missing, where she is, and when she’s coming back. The cryptic answers serve only to fuel the mystery and speculation.

“Angel is part of this basketball team,” Mulkey says after the Southeastern Louisiana game. “We hope to see her sooner than later.”

Reese isn’t on the plane when LSU travels to the Cayman Islands for a tournament over the Thanksgiving holiday. She’s not on the boat when the team swims with stingrays. She’s not on the raft floating in the crystal-clear ocean waters. She’s not in the gym when sophomore Sa’Myah Smith goes down with a season-ending injury.

When I ask Van Lith how Reese’s absence is affecting her after LSU’s 76-73 victory over Virginia, her response is quick. “We don’t really want to speak on that,” she says.

After returning from a four-game absence, Angel Reese said her mental health was the most important thing. Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Then, back in the Bayou on Nov. 30, Reese returns to lead the Tigers against Virginia Tech in a top-10 showdown. She runs out of the tunnel, down the purple carpet into the PMAC, receiving her customary crown from a teammate as the packed arena cheers.

LSU pulls away down the stretch to beat the Hokies 82-64 for its eighth straight win. Reese has 19 points and nine rebounds.

“She came back like Angel,” LSU assistant coach Gary Redus II says. “And that was the part that I was happy about. Playing was never going to be a problem if she came back smiling, and talking, and fussing, and talking trash, and all that stuff.”

After the game, Reese embraces Mulkey and watches as LSU celebrates Mulkey’s 700th career win. It’s like nothing ever happened.

But something happened. It’s just that nobody is naming it. Mulkey references a “locker room issue” and compares Reese’s absence to disciplining a child.

“Those kids are like my children, and I’m not going to tell you what you don’t need to know,” Mulkey says. “That’s just the way I address things.”

Reese has characterized her absence as a mental health break, mutually decided on by her and the coaching staff. “Taking time to myself,” she says about why she missed four and a half games. “[The coaching staff] want the best for me and I want the best for me, so I think it was just a mutual thing that we were able to agree on.”

She was applauded by some for prioritizing her mental health. She was slammed by others for creating a stir. This is Angel Reese.

A LINE OF FANS snakes from the door to the Physical Education Complex at Coppin State University ahead of LSU’s game against the Eagles on Dec. 20. It’s a clear, brisk night and the gym is sold out for the first time in the school’s history.

Reese is accompanied by LSU security as she enters the building. There is always security around her and LSU when they are on the road. When she sat for an interview with me the previous day in a hotel ballroom, two security guards were on the other side of the room.

This game is Reese’s homecoming game, so it’s not a surprise that she got 20 tickets for friends and family. When the fans pack the 4,100-seat arena, many crane their necks waiting to see Reese on the floor.

Though she has left the city, Reese took a bit of Baltimore with her. She packed up her trash talk and has unleashed it on opponents and teammates alike.

“There were definitely times when I walked her off the ledge,” Benzan says, “but there were times when I jumped on board, where she was the tipping point in our momentum.”

“She’s brutal,” Morris says. “Brutally honest. She’s going to let you know. Angel’s a person who operates off of principle. Right is right. Wrong is wrong.”

“As female athletes in the spotlight who are aggressive, talk on the court, love to be energetic and passionate, I think a lot of the times people try to portray that as something that’s negative,” Van Lith says. “Or that we’re selfish or that we’re rude or mean and things like that.”

With Hailey Van Lith by her side, many expected Reese and the Tigers to roll to a repeat. LSU was the preseason No.1 but is a No. 3 seed in the tournament. Top: Jonathan Mailhes/CSM via AP Images, Bottom: Ken Ruinard/USA TODAY NETWORK
After LSU’s 80-48 victory, fans wait around the arena, hoping to see Reese. She does her postgame press availability in an overflowing, overheated room. LSU security whisks her to an elevator to take her up to the concourse to see her friends and family.

Some of her closest friends, a group of non-athletes she met while at Maryland, are there, but security tries to get them to leave with everyone else.

“No, those are my friends,” Reese says, waving them through. “They’re staying.”

Reese fell in with Amira Idris, Binta Sanyang, Trisha Mpong, Nabeela Idris and Donica Tedros while she was a student at Maryland. They regularly bopped between apartments during the summer before Reese’s sophomore year. Reese’s apartment building had a terrace on the fourth floor, and they loved to have little cookouts.

“Angel’s shrimp. Let me tell you, Angel can cook,” Amira Idris says. “She put it on the plate and in five seconds it was gone.”

Those memories tug at Reese’s heart. So much has changed since she was making shrimp for her friends. She gets mobbed at the airport and stopped at the grocery store. Forget going out with friends. When she leaves her house and doesn’t want to be spotted, she pulls up her hood and wears sunglasses.

But there’s nothing she can do about her 6-foot-3 frame. Reese stands out in a crowd. She has gotten used to TMZ showing up when she lands in large cities such as Los Angeles.

“I really only had one year of experiencing the real college life,” Reese says. “And I wish I could go back.”

She’s aware that false narratives are created about her. People bluster on social media.

“I can have a cup of water and people think it’s tequila,” Reese says.

That summer with her friends, though. It’s something Reese craves. The warmth. The relaxing on the terrace. The carefree spontaneity.

“We just had so much fun just living that normal life, and it sucks that I can’t live that normal life again,” she pauses. “But it’s also a blessing that everything has come.”

Nobody doubts Reese’s ability to maneuver in the paint, but her perimeter shooting has been questioned. Eakin Howard/Getty Images
HOW REESE’S GAME will translate to the WNBA is a question that looms over her future. She is a dominant player in the college game, and there is no doubt she has the athletic talent to be a successful pro. She’s an incredible rebounder.

She can score around the basket and finish through contact. She has the athleticism to guard smaller players on the perimeter and the strength to give bigger players problems inside.

The single largest criticism of her game is her struggle to shoot outside the paint. At 6-3, Reese is undersized as a true center in the WNBA. Brittney Griner anchors Phoenix at 6-9; Dallas boasts a trio of towers with 6-7 Kalani Brown, 6-7 Teaira McCowan and 6-6 Stephanie Soares; and Cardoso, a fellow WNBA prospect, is 6-7.

Being able to reliably hit outside shots has become a staple of the power forward position in the WNBA. Lauren Jackson was doing it in Seattle from 2001 to 2012. The two players Reese mentions as her primary basketball influences, Candace Parker and A’ja Wilson, hit shots from the perimeter. Wilson developed that ability as a pro; it wasn’t something she showed in college.

Even many WNBA centers can shoot from 3-point range, especially off the pick-and-pop or as a trailer in transition. Stefanie Dolson, Jonquel Jones and Azura Stevens might have stayed glued to the paint 10 or 15 years ago, but now rove the perimeter and stretch defenses.

“I wish she had more range on her shot,” a WNBA GM said. “I think that’s something that she needs to add.”

“I’d like to see her evolve her game outside of 10 feet,” another evaluator said. “If she’s going to play the four at the pro level, I think she’s got to work on her free throws and her outside shot.”

None of this is news to Reese. When open at the elbow or on the wing at the 3-point line, the consideration is evident on her face.

“She catches the ball, and she’s wide open, and then she’s looking for somebody to pass to, and then she’s like, ‘Oh, I’m the one open,'” Redus says. “She’s like, ‘All right, I’m going to shoot it.’ And now I’m like, ‘You took too long. Catch it and shoot it.’ When she just catches the ball and shoots the ball she can make shots.”

LSU, however, doesn’t really want or need Reese to take outside shots to win games. The coaches want her down low, snagging each of the 13.1 rebounds she averages and feasting off second-chance points. Reese’s rebounding ability is her greatest strength. When she’s shooting outside, she’s not bodying inside to clean up everyone else’s misses.

LSU legend Shaquille O’Neal has become an important presence in Reese’s life. “Being able to have somebody like that has been a great inspiration for me,” she says. AP Photo/Matthew Hinton
On the road against Mississippi State, Reese found herself open from the elbow early in the game. She took the shot. Missed. Later, when she was open again, she shot it again. And missed again. Both times, Reese got an earful from the coaching staff as she jogged back down the court.

“She can hit 3s, but that’s not really what we need her to do,” Redus says.

There is plenty about her game WNBA scouts are excited about. “She’s just deadly in the paint,” one GM says. “but she’s also very effective even when she’s got a bigger player on her because she can go around them because of her athleticism and her quickness.”

There are also elements of Parker’s influence on her game. Reese handles the ball well and is an excellent facilitator. She will snag a board and turn to push the ball up the floor, initiating LSU’s fast-break offense and causing problems for her own defenders, who are often not as athletic. The Connecticut Sun’s Alyssa Thomas had an MVP-caliber season with a skill set not so different from Reese’s.

“She could be our leading assist person, really, if I wouldn’t fuss at her to score the ball,” Mulkey says. “Because she draws so much attention, she will find you open.”

A lingering question among WNBA scouts is what happened in November. One coach says “of course” her absence matters. Another evaluator describes it as “another data point.” They also notice Reese’s sometimes chippy play, including the back-and-forth with Cardoso.

“Some of the stuff she does is disrespectful to the game,” one GM says. “The dirty play hurts her for sure.”

When Reese will go pro is unknown. She has hinted on social media that she’s asking herself that question. She took part in LSU’s senior day ceremony. Shaquille O’Neal escorted her onto the court. But it wasn’t necessarily goodbye. Reese posted on X: “Should I stay, should I go? I don’t know.”

First, there is the matter of March.

Reese never shies away from showing a little personality on the court. Here, she celebrates, Mack Truck style, with freshman Aalyah Del Rosario. Eakin Howard/Getty Images
WITH 1:48 LEFT in a late February game against Tennessee, Reese drives toward the basket. She goes up to lay in the ball with an underhand scoop. Behind her, Rickea Jackson, Tennessee’s star and a projected WNBA lottery pick, jumps and swats the ball out of bounds. She lets Reese know about it too. “Gimme that s—,” Jackson yells as the ball sails over the baseline.

It doesn’t matter that LSU is up by 16. It doesn’t matter that Reese already has a double-double, her 18th on the season. Jackson just got her. When that happens, it eats Reese up.

“She really, really doesn’t like to lose,” Redus says. “It’s so easy to get under her skin. When she’s not practicing hard enough, I do it on purpose. ‘Don’t pass the ball to Angel, she not going to score. She not doing nothing today. She don’t feel like practicing today.’ She don’t like to be showed up. She doesn’t want anybody to have bragging rights over her in anything.”

After Jackson blocks her shot, Reese presses on defense. She swats down at the ball as soon as Tennessee’s Sara Puckett catches it then she presses into Puckett as she dribbles. When Tess Darby comes off the pick-and-roll, Reese extends her arm to try to pick Darby’s pocket. She misses. Reese reaches again and is called for a foul.

Standing on the edge of the paint, waiting for Darby to shoot free throws, Reese pats her chest to say, “My bad. My fault.” It’s meaningless in terms of the outcome of the game, and as soon as play resumes, Reese calms down. Even with Jackson guarding her the next time down the floor, and bodying her in the lane, Reese doesn’t lose her cool. She balances her fire and fun.

After the 75-60 LSU win, she turns to the Tennessee team that’s walking off the court. She rubs her thumbs against her fingers and says, “Get your money up!”

Then she blows kisses to the LSU crowd that traveled to Rocky Top to support the Tigers.

Brash toward those she battles and loving toward those she loves.

“Everybody’s going to be a villain in somebody’s story,” Morris, her former teammate, says. “She can’t be the hero in everybody’s story. There’s naysayers in anything we do in life, especially as an athlete.”

With legacy and glory on the line and a bull’s-eye as big as the center-court logo on her back, Reese now returns to the madness of March. She’ll take the court with the opportunity to win another NCAA championship and to stamp her argument for why WNBA teams should draft her. Opponents will come for her. Fans will cheer for her. Others will boo.

Reese has lived a lifetime in the year since she led LSU to the national title. She has been embraced. She has been bashed. She has heard both sides. But it’s March now. She knows you’re watching. And she wants the final word.

“I’m doing whatever it takes to win,” she says.

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