LSU’s Angel Reese, Hailey Van Lith take part in senior day, but don’t rule out a return

LSU forward Angel Reese (10) passes the ball away from...

By BRETT MARTEL (AP Sports Writer)

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The crowd filling LSU’s Pete Maravich Assembly Center chanted, “One more year!,” when star forward Angel Reese and explosive guard Hailey Van Lith were standing at center court during senior day festivities.

It was halftime of what might have been their last regular-season game for LSU on Sunday, when the ninth-ranked Tigers defeated Kentucky 77-56.

“The fan base here is amazing and of course I probably would never see anything like this again,” said Reese, who became known as the “Bayou Barbie” at LSU. “You think about that when you’re trying to make a decision because I do love LSU … and the support here that made me who I am.”

“It’s a lot of pressure, of course,” Reese added, “but I’m just trying to focus on the now.”

Although they elected to take part in senior day, Reese and Van Lith said they continue to weigh options, which include declaring for the WNBA draft or possibly remaining at LSU.

Reese’s escort included her mother, Angel, and former LSU and NBA star Shaquille O’Neal during the festivities. Van Lith was flanked by her parents and brother, Tanner.

“It makes you feel good that the fans want you back so badly and that this community really cherishes us,” Van Lith said, appearing to hold back tears. “Just the support for women’s basketball in Baton Rouge is a really special thing.”

Both players said no decision will be made until after their final game of the upcoming postseason.

“I’m not even thinking about anything except trying to win a national championship this year,” said Van Lith, who transferred from Louisville to join an LSU program coming off its first national championship last season.

Reese, who had 22 points, 14 rebounds, five blocks and three steals against Kentucky, has averaged about 19 points and 13 rebounds this season — down a bit from averages of 23 points and 15.4 rebounds a season ago, when she led LSU to its first national title.

LSU next plays Friday in the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament in Greenville, South Carolina. The Tigers are the No. 2 seed, giving them a double bye, and their results in Greenville will influence their seeding for the NCAA Tournament that follows.

Van Lith has averaged just more than 12 points this season after scoring nearly 20 a game at Louisville last season.

“I feel very lucky,” LSU coach Kim Mulkey said when asked about coaching Reese the past two seasons and Van Lith this season. “I feel blessed they chose to come to LSU.”

Mulkey, now in her third season at LSU, has won four national titles as a head coach — her first three at Baylor before her latest in just her second season with the Tigers.

But Mulkey said she has been struck by how popular her LSU team has become during the past two seasons, from the fan reception at home and road games to the publicity some of her players — particularly Reese — are able to generate on multiple media platforms.

“This isn’t my first rodeo. I’ve won three national championships at Baylor, I had a 40-0 (team). I’ve never seen anything like this,” Mulkey said. “I think what’s different is they’re very, very talented, they’ve very entertaining, they’re very accessible, they have unbelievable personalities and they let it show.

“If you combine all of that with a tough woman, that kind of intrigues people, that you can beautiful, that you can be talented, that you can be tough, that you can be you,” Mulkey added. “And it reaches people that may have never had an interest in women’s basketball before.”

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