Photo by Andrew Wevers/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Despite being upset by sixth-seeded Ohio State on Monday, LSU coach Kim Mulkey remained in high spirits after the game, calling the season “one of my most enjoyable years ever in my career.”

Mulkey left Baylor last April after 21 seasons and three national championships with the Bears, returning home to her native Louisiana. In her first season with the Tigers, she guided them to a second-place finish in the SEC with a 13-3 conference record, the program’s best finish in the league since 2009. It was also their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2017. The Tigers finished 26-6 overall.

“I personally judge good coaches based on the talent they have on the floor and are they overachieving,” Mulkey said after the game. “Did we beat some people this year that we should not have beaten? You bet we did. We beat ranked teams … we came from nowhere and just built it.

“We were winning, but it’s enjoyable because you can see the impact that one program can have on an entire university. And it was done in one year.”

Last season, the Tigers finished 9-13 overall and 6-8 in the SEC. Coach Nikki Fargas left after the season to become president of the WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces. Mulkey, who played and coached at Louisiana Tech, said: “This is home, and it’s why I came back.”

“I didn’t go to [school at] LSU; I competed against LSU,” she continued. “But it’s our flagship university in the state. And I’ve seen what has taken place here through the years: the Final Fours and the great players that played here and the stands being full.

“I knew what it was capable of being like. Timing was right in my life to come back. I wanted to be a positive for LSU, for the state of Louisiana. That’s why it’s so enjoyable. Something in your heart and gut tells you this is where you need to be.”

Still, she acknowledged that leaving Baylor and all that she had built was difficult. The Bears hired former Atlanta Dream head coach Nicki Collen to replace her and were 28-7 this season, winning the Big 12 regular season crown. They then lost to South Dakota in the second round of the tournament. On Monday, Mulkey said that the move has worked out.

“I don’t know of any coach in men’s or women’s basketball that would do what I did, that would leave a dynasty and a very talented team,” Mulkey said. “I think a lot of coaches are scared, a lot of coaches become content to stay where they are. They just don’t do what I did. But it was the right move for me.”

The road from here will not be easy, as Mulkey recognized that she was “blessed to have inherited experience.” Senior guard Khayla Pointer, who led the Tigers with 58 points and 12 assists through their two NCAA Tournament games, is one of six players who will not be returning.

“We can get in the transfer portal, and we will,” said Mulkey. “We’re going to build this program with high school seniors as well.

“It’s gonna take time. This bunch jump-started this program, revived it again. I’m forever grateful to them. Never had one minute’s trouble off the floor. Those seniors were mature, and they just embraced us as a staff and let me coach them.”