LAS VEGAS – Seven months after cutting down the nets, top-ranked LSU showed Monday night there is plenty of work to do if the Tigers are to repeat as national champions.
No. 20 Colorado drove that point home with a convincing and stunning 92-78 victory in the Hall of Fame Series.
“You live with just a tough night offensively,” LSU coach Kim Mulkey said. “What I don't live with is (lack of) guts and fight and physical play. You've got that dog in you, and I thought we didn't have that tonight.”
It’s the first time that the top team in the AP poll lost its opener since the 1995-96 season when UConn fell to Louisiana Tech according to ESPN. The Huskies were defending national champions that year and that game also marked the first time that the previous season's NCAA title winners lost their first game.
Frida Formann scored 27 points and Aaronette Vonleh added 24 to lead Colorado. Teammate Jaylyn Sherrod had 19 points, eight rebounds and six assists.
Mikaylah Williams led LSU with 17 points, Sa’Myah Smith scored 16 points, Angel Reese had 15 points and 12 rebounds and noted Louisville transfer Hailey Van Lith and had 14 points. Mulkey singled out Williams and Smith, noting the freshman and sophomore, respectively, “did all they could,”
“We need more than just them," Mulkey said. "We needed more than just those two to have a little bit of fight within. This is not going to devastate us. ... I knew what we faced, but what I didn't know about my team were all those (intangible) things I just described to you. Those things are fixable, but I don't know how long it's going to take to fix it. So they probably will have a good practice come Wednesday.”
Colorado, which made the Sweet 16 last season for the first time since 2003, led most of the way in the convincing, statement-making victory. The Buffaloes, who shot 53.2%, led by as many as 22 points.
“We've got great young women in our program,” Colorado coach JR Payne said. “I love their tenacity. I love their fearlessness. I love their grit and toughness. It's what we're built upon, so a game like this that a large part of the world said no to ... it was everything we wanted. We wanted a challenge. We wanted to take our team into the national spotlight so that I could show how great they are.”
LSU appeared to find its game early in the second quarter in taking a 24-18 lead only to have Colorado going on a 14-1 run to go up seven points, taking the lead for good.
“I think we just need to play together,” Williams said. “We have a lot of work to do.”
Former LSU star and Hall-of-Famer Shaquille O’Neal watched from his courtside seat. Also in attendance were Hall-of-Famer Grant Hill, Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver Davante Adams, former major-league veteran Dexter Fowler and members of the two-time WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces.
Mulkey, known for her extravagant outfits, played to the star atmosphere by wearing a Las Vegas-themed sequined pantsuit that included playing cards, hearts and horseshoes.
Colorado: The Buffaloes made Reese as uncomfortable as possible, getting physical with the Most Outstanding Player from last season’s Final Four. She finished with a double-double, but shot 6-of-15 and was in foul trouble in the second half.
LSU: The Tigers were handed an early message that repeating might not be so easy. This loss will get their attention better than anything Mulkey, a master motivator who has won four national championships, could say to her players.
Colorado: Hosts Le Moyne on Wednesday.
LSU: Hosts Queens on Thursday.
AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball