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Viewpoint | Bad peoples ? Models ? Champions? Good luck defining LSU.

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ALBANY, NY – As crazy as it sounds, this column will be about a college basketball team.

The one who traveled over 1,400 miles to attend a basketball game – a very important, highly competitive, and delightfully entertaining basketball game, at that. One of the basketball players who made the trip recorded a double-double, fluid – or Flau’in – off the dribble and in the lane like water. Another made almost every important free throw she attempted, as if a clutch gene was written into her DNA. And on a Saturday afternoon, in an arena where fans filled almost every seat, this basketball team demonstrated the dexterity of hardwood craftsmen. The solidity of a group polished by a season full of challenges, on and off the field. And the resilience of the reigning queens.

The LSU Tigers won this basketball game, outlasting UCLA, 78-69. I promise, it’s true. These real-life, real-life basketball activities involving the LSU basketball team took place during the NCAA regional conference held in the New York state capital. And the proof since their match was broadcast live on ABC and evidenced by a full house announced. crowd inside. But when it comes to This A collection of college basketball players – and the college basketball coach who leads them – the game tends to take the back seat.

Sometimes it’s because they put it there.

This is not just a basketball team. But the Beatles. At least that’s what Angel Reese, their superstar whose life-size image appeared in the windows of Reebok’s flagship store in New York, said their coach called them. Fans also run after their charter bus, according to Reese.

They’re role models, a task taken seriously by sophomore guard Flau’jae Johnson, who, when she’s not a rapper, is a pitchwoman for a sports drink as well as a website offering credit scores .

And when someone outside their Baton Rouge cocoon hands them a black hat, they try it on and wear it with pride. Because the LSU basketball team says “the people” want to see them fall. Humiliated and bowed. Their stars fall back to Earth.

“Being an athlete is hard. Being a student-athlete is tough. And especially where we are right now, where we are household names, we are technically famous, we are celebrities not only in basketball but to everyone in the world,” Reese said a day before playing a basketball game in Albany. “So just being able to be inspiring, being able to make an impact wherever we go. People are running and chasing and wanting autographs. It’s been great, and it’s also a downside of the negative things.

So the Tigers divided their afternoon into two distinct roles: the reigning national champions who qualified for the elite eight and the self-proclaimed martyrs ready for their nonstop monologues to go viral.

“We’re the good bad guys,” Reese said after playing that basketball game. “Everyone wants to beat LSU. Everyone wants to be LSU. Everyone wants to play LSU.

In a post-match press conference, coach Kim Mulkey provided nine words in response to a question about officiating the match. She then shared her thoughts on inequality in media coverage and Easter. She asked all the mothers in the room to raise their hands. Then Mulkey wanted grandmothers to raise their own. It was a setup for Mulkey to launch into a four-minute monologue about an article – no, not that A! Another, according to Mulkey, attacked his young wives.

She didn’t mention the New York Times’ positive profile on Johnson’s ascendant career as a rapper, which cited a university source about how her players are “redefining” what’s possible in women’s sports. (Okay. In the NIL era, how many college athletes have partnered with a company like Experian? But Johnson did, and when I asked her Friday about that choice, she explained how she wanted to “educate teenagers and people in my position about money, credit.”)

Mulkey did not address this story, nor did she send clicks to the New Orleans media outlet that wrote about her players’ strong mental focus that allows them to weather slights and continue to play. win – an article which also predicted his team would qualify for the title. Elite Eight. Instead, when asked about the team’s “us versus them” mentality, Mulkey saw an opening and defended her players against a Los Angeles Times article that she saw as an attack on their femininity.

“You want to talk about growing the game? Go check out our crowds, people,” Mulkey said. “I’m sorry. I’m from a different generation. I understand. But I know sexism when I see it and read it. It was horrible.

The commentary pitted the reputations of UCLA and LSU by pitting their hometown Bruins, the “lovers of America,” against the “dirty debutantes” of the Bayou. He then referenced LSU’s history of snapping — something the Tigers participated in throughout the game against UCLA — and even after the game, it seemed. Reese said she responded to a Bruins assistant coach who was “talking a little crazy” during the handshake line. Johnson also said she had a few words for Bruins fans. For what? Because the LSU basketball team is made up of basketball players and that’s what basketball players do. They speak badly.

So, if all is well, just for a moment, let’s see what else these basketball players did on Saturday.

The teams entered the final quarter all tied. Yet when the Bruins finally started sending decent entry passes to 6-foot-7 center Lauren Betts and hitting their three-pointers, LSU didn’t crumble. When UCLA held a three-point lead with about four minutes left and Betts had to go to the bench with four fouls, Johnson wisely and deftly slipped into the lane to score, cutting the lead to 63 -62.

Then, two Reese free throws gave LSU the lead with 1:46 left, and after Reese blocked UCLA’s Kiki Rice at the other end, Johnson got the rebound and was fouled. a fault. Johnson made both — giving LSU a 70-67 advantage that would grow from there — but those foul shots and his 24 points didn’t give him as much pleasure as his team-leading 12 rebounds.

“Yeah, I had more rebounds than Angel,” Johnson said, sticking out her tongue and playfully scolding her teammate.

“Just one. Just one,” Reese replied with a smile.

And after surviving a fourth quarter against the top-seeded Bruins, a stretch that showed how well-coached, fundamentally sound and competent as basketball players the Tigers are, the LSU basketball team became the Beatles again. Or the “good bad guys” who seek negativity to feed themselves. These LSU Tigers may play basketball, but they happily step into the spotlight as a phenomenon of their own creation.

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