Angel Reese, the 2023 Final Four Most Outstanding Player, is finally returning to the court.
The All-American forward missed the Tigers’ last four contests, including LSU's games in the Cayman Islands over the Thanksgiving holiday. Throughout Reese’s absence, Mulkey declined to give details on why Reese was missing, and would not clarify if she was suspended, injured or gone by choice. But she's happy Reese is back.
"It's a boost having her back period, not just because we're playing Virginia Tech, it's just for our team. She's a tremendous player," Mulkey said, according to the Lafayette Daily Advertiser, a part of the USA TODAY NETWORK. "One of the best players in the country. She gives us a good matchup with (Elizabeth) Kitley.
"I expect Angel to just be Angel. She's been really good in practice."
Reese was also quiet throughout her absence, though over Thanksgiving weekend she reposted on her social media accounts numerous photos celebrating LSU's success in the Cayman Islands (the Tigers went 2-0 with wins over Niagara and Virginia).
Reese’s status resulted in plenty of speculation across the basketball community. On Sunday, Nov. 19, the day after Reese was first missing in action, ESPN’s Elle Duncan called Reese’s situation “maybe the biggest story in women’s college basketball.”
In four games played so far this season, the 6-foot-3 junior forward from Baltimore is averaging 17.0 points and 10.3 rebounds. It’s the third season in a row that Reese has averaged a double-double, including the 2021-22 season at Maryland. (Though Reese is listed as a junior, she’s part of the NCAA’s “COVID class,” meaning she can play a fifth year if she wants.)
No. 5 LSU, the defending national champion, was upset its first game of the season, losing 92-78 to Colorado. Afterward, Mulkey said she was “disappointed and surprised in some players I thought would be tougher and have a little fight and leadership about them,” but she did not call anyone out by name.
Three games later, in the Tigers’ 109-79 win over Kent State, Mulkey benched Reese in the second half. Afterward, Mulkey would only say it was a “coach’s decision” to not play Reese.
Also Wednesday, Mulkey announced sophomore Sa'Myah Smith will miss the rest of the season after tearing the ACL, MCL and meniscus in her right knee during the first game of the Cayman Islands Classic. Smith had been averaging 11.7 points and 7.6 rebounds through seven games this season.
Additionally, Mulkey said guard Kateri Poole, a transfer from Ohio State before last season, is "not with the team," but declined to give details on if, or when, Poole will return.
Follow Lindsay Schnell on social media @Lindsay_Schnell
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Angel Reese will return for LSU vs. Virginia Tech on Thursday