LSU basketball came up big Tuesday night in a historic 133-44 win over McNeese State.

The Tigers set program records for points in a game and margin of victory. Their previous scoring record stood at 125, set in November of last year in a win over Bellarmine. The previous margin of victory record was much older, with the Tigers eclipsing a 76-point win over Prairie View in 1995.

In the win, LSU showcased its defensive skills, forcing 36 turnovers, which turned into 52 points. In the second quarter, the Tigers shut out the Cowgirls entirely, part of a stretch of 13:36 in which they held their opponents scoreless.

In that time, LSU went on a 47-0 run.

“I told them at half, I don’t know if I’ve even been part of that,” LSU head coach Kim Mulkey said. “And a run like that you don’t think about it in the moment. I don’t care who you’re playing. That’s crazy.”

LSU had 20 steals, led by Angel Reese who had six. Flau’jae Johnson had five while freshman Mikaylah Williams had four. Reese added 21 points and 10 rebounds, while freshman Aalyah Del Rosario led the team in scoring with 27 points and 10 rebounds. Aneesah Morrow had 18 points, while Williams had 26.

After missing 10 of their first 13 shots, the Tigers quickly turned their game around – even without Hailey Van Lith, who is out with a foot injury. Still, if you ask Mulkey, the defense is “still catching up” after dealing with player absences. (Reese recently missed four games for undisclosed reasons, and Sa’Myah Smith suffered a season-ending knee injury.)

“You don’t have Angel, then you don’t have Hailey and you don’t have Sa’Myah. So that sets you back temporarily until you can get back on that floor and prepare every day without them,” Mulkey said. “I think when Hailey gets back and if you can keep everybody healthy, I think you’ll start to see some good stuff out there.

“I’m not saying you’re not seeing good stuff now. I see improvement. But I’ll say it again, we can score the ball with a lot of people. But you got to defend and you got to rebound if you want to win championships.”

Still, allowing just 44 points in a game showcases a team’s defensive abilities – regardless of which opponent is on the other side of the stat sheet.

“Their defensive pressure got to us,” McNeese head coach Lynn Kennedy said. “We just didn’t handle it well. LSU caught fire. The fast break really opened it up for them, they [made] some transition shots and that got them going.”

For Del Rosario, the performance serves as an indicator of what she can bring to the Tigers from the bench as the season continues.

“It changed my perspective of the game,” she said. “I knew I was going to have to step up, play big-time minutes on the court and take advantage of the minutes. When I came here, I was not in the best of shape. Now, I feel like I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been.”

The NCAA basketball season has started off with a bang, with a number of freshmen already making names for themselves.

MiLaysia Fulwiley caught the attention of NBA great Magic Johnson in her very first game for South Carolina. And if Fulwiley and her fellows continue on their trajectories, then freshman of the year could be this season’s most competitive award — and a few freshmen could even play their way into the national player of the year conversation.

Just Women’s Sports takes a look at four freshman phenoms who have starred for their teams in the first month of the season.

JuJu Watkins, USC

Watkins has been vocal about having both freshman of the year and national player of the year aspirations – and so far, she’s off to a great start. On Monday, she snagged her third-straight Pac-12 Freshman of the Week selection, and she has helped No. 6 USC to its best AP poll ranking in 29 years.

Her first collegiate game set the tone. Her 32 points stands as the most ever by a USC freshman in their debut, beating out Lisa Leslie’s 30 points. And those 32 points came against a ranked opponent in Notre Dame. Just five games later, she broke Leslie’s record for the most 30-point games scored by a USC freshman. And what’s more? Her 26.8 points per game rank second in Division I behind only Iowa senior Caitlin Clark.

When USC trailed by six points to Penn State on Nov. 22, Watkins scored seven in a row to lead the still-undefeated Trojans to victory.

“JuJu is so phenomenal, to see her adapt to the college game and adapt as quickly is so impressive,” USC head coach Lindsay Gottlieb said of Watkins. And after her debut, Gottlieb said: “She’s ridiculous. Get used to it.”

img
(Jeff Blake/USA TODAY Sports)

MiLaysia Fulwiley, South Carolina

Fulwiley turned heads with her season-opening performance against Notre Dame in Paris. And since then, she’s been a walking highlight reel for South Carolina, helping the team reach the No. 1 spot in the rankings.

The freshman guard is averaging the second-most points (15.0) for the Gamecocks behind only senior center Kamilla Cardoso (16.8). She’s also averaging 4.0 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 2.0 steals per game. The Gamecocks (5-0) had a lot of question marks after the departure of big names such as Aliyah Boston and Zia Cooke, but in Fulwiley, they’ve found an answer.

And what is perhaps scariest for South Carolina’s opponents is that Fulwiley still has a lot to learn when it comes to choosing her spots for her dazzling plays.

“She’s looking for a really great moment for her, a crowd-pleasing play. She has an appetite for it, that she loses sight of the in-between the great plays. And that’s where the game is being played,” head coach Dawn Staley said. “We gotta continue to give her more experiences in game-like situations. … But she’s learning.

“Not taking anything away from her. I want her to be great, I want her to be generational, I want her to be able to play a lot of different ways.”

img
(Matt Cashore/USA TODAY Sports)

Hannah Hidalgo, Notre Dame

A three-time ACC Rookie of the Week, Hidalgo is off to a hot start for the Irish, averaging 25.0 points (good for third in Division I), 5.0 rebounds, 5.5 assists and a 56.6% shooting through her first six games. She leads the ACC in both points and steals (6.3) per game.

Hidalgo set a Notre Dame record with 31 points in her first game. And earlier this month, she was named ACC Player of the Week and Rookie of the Week – just the second Notre Dame player to ever sweep such awards.

On top of that, she has 38 steals through six games. Her season high sits at 12 – which tied the Notre Dame record for a single game. She had 18 steals in a two-game span, which is the second-most by an ACC player in the last 25 seasons. She leads all Division I players in steals per game.

She also hasn’t posted below 20 points yet this season, and her six straight games with at least 20 points matches Beth Morgan and Arike Ogunbowale as the only players in Irish history to do so.

“I knew recruiting her what she was capable of providing for us,” head coach Niele Ivey said of Hidalgo. “I needed leadership. I needed scoring. And somebody that could just handle the ball … just the experience that she brings.

“And then we obviously fell in love with her. She has an incredible personality. So when you have that match with somebody with high character, somebody that plays with the unselfishness that she plays with, it fits into our system perfectly.”

img
(Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports)

Mikaylah Williams, LSU

Williams is another freshman who is making history. Against Kent State in mid-November, she scored 42 points, going 15-of-20 from the field while adding seven rebounds and three steals. Those 42 points set an LSU freshman record for points, and also stand as the most points in a single game for any LSU women’s basketball player in the last 25 seasons.

“She’s a special talent,” head coach Kim Mulkey said. “It was one of those moments where the rim feels as big as the ocean. I want to be that coach that pushes her beyond the limits. I think you’re just seeing her scratch the surface.”

She’s averaging 17.5 points per game, and her scoring touch has helped LSU rise to the sky-high expectations they faced ahead of the season – even amid some off-court turmoil.

For Williams to stand out among a top-ranked recruiting class at LSU is no small feat – especially considering the star transfers that the Tigers also brought in during the offseason, with both Hailey Van Lith and Aneesah Morrow making their mark.

No. 2 recruit Mikaylah Williams has had an eye-popping start to her freshman campaign, including a 42-point performance in LSU’s win over Kent State on Tuesday.

Williams’ 42 points were the most scored by an LSU freshman in the NCAA era and the second-most all-time. For the 18-year-old guard, it “all starts in practice.”

“How you practice is how you play,” she said. “Coach Mulkey has been riding me and riding me and staying on my tail about working hard and effort. So that in practice showed to the game today.”

Mulkey has known what Williams is capable of since recruiting her out of Parkway High School in Shreveport, La. A consensus top-two prospect in the Class of 2023, Williams was a big get for the Tigers.

“I’ve been riding her because I don’t think she knows how good she is. You saw today what she’s capable of doing,” Mulkey said. “She’s a special talent. I guess it’s just those moments where you feel that rim is as big as the ocean.

“I want to be that coach that pushes her beyond the limits. I think you’re just seeing her scratch the surface.”

The hard work is paying off for Williams, who had never scored more than 35 points in a game before Tuesday.

“I work hard for putting out what I put out,” she said. “I applaud my teammates for finding the hot hand and helping me get to this success.”

Williams has been a bright spot for LSU, who came into the year with sky-high expectations as the reigning NCAA champions and have dealt with early-season adversity. Ranked No. 1 to start the season, the Tigers lost their opener to then-No. 20 Colorado. Then Mulkey held star Angel Reese out of the second half of the Kent State game, calling it a “coach’s decision,” and drama surrounding the team erupted on social media this week.

Through the challenges, LSU players are trying to stick together and find positives, such as the play of freshman Williams.

“It makes me feel good to get Mikaylah a pass and see her score,” LSU teammate Aneesah Morrow added after the Kent State game. “I get to see the work that Mikaylah puts in every day. It’s a nonstop thing. She’s very consistent and works hard every day. To see that pay off is amazing.”

Kim Mulkey didn’t hold back after top-ranked LSU basketball lost its season opener to No. 20 Colorado, citing players’ lack of leadership in the 92-78 loss.

“I’m disappointed and surprised in some individual players that I thought would just be tougher and have a little fight and leadership about them,” Mulkey said. “But I knew what we faced. When you have that many kids that played that many minutes together [as Colorado], we had our hands full. Colorado did exactly what I thought they would do.”

Some of the Tigers issues are ones Mulkey can “live with,” such as poor shooting, which led to a “tough night offensively,” the head coach said.

“What I don’t live with is just guts and fight and physical play [not being there],” she continued. “You got that dog in you. I just didn’t think we had that tonight.”

LSU freshman Mikaylah Williams (17 points) and sophomore Sa’Myah Smith (16) led the team in scoring. The pair “did all they could,” according to Mulkey.

“You’re talking about a true freshman and a true sophomore. We need more than just them to have a little bit of fight,” she continued, noting that the team’s second line of defense was “nonexistent.” Still, she notes that these things are “fixable,” though she doesn’t know how long it will take.

“We’re not the same team today we were when we won it all,” she said. “I don’t know if anything that went on this summer [with new players transferring in] has anything whatsoever to do with [our] locker room. I think [our] locker room is affected by Colorado being a very good team.”

Angel Reese set an NCAA single-season record with 34 double-doubles last season, and she picked up where she left off, with 15 points and 12 rebounds. Star transfer Hailey Van Lith added 14 points and 7 assists, while fellow transfer Aneesah Morrow had 6 points and 4 rebounds.

The 2023 Jersey Mike’s Naismith Girls High School Player of the Year watch list was revealed Tuesday, with 38 seniors making an appearance.

Parkway’s Mikaylah Williams, an LSU signee, and Sierra Canyon’s Juju Watkins, a USC signee, are among the marquee names on the watch list. Sophomores Aaliyah Chavez, Jasmine Davidson and ZaKiyah Johnson are the only underclassmen who made the list.

“This group of young women is as talented as we have ever seen,” said Eric Oberman, executive director of the Atlanta Tipoff Club. “We are excited to watch them compete this season and see their progression and development throughout the 2022-23 season.”

Jadyn Donovan, a Duke signee, will give Sidwell Friends School an opportunity to claim back-to-back honorees after Kiki Rice won the award in 2021-22. UConn and South Carolina each have three recruits on this year’s list.

“Jersey Mike’s believes in the importance of high school sports,” said Jeff Hemschoot, vice president of marketing for Jersey Mike’s. “We are thrilled to be a part of another great year of girls high school basketball and look forward to honoring a deserving athlete at the end of the season.”

The five finalists for this year’s award will be revealed in February, while the trophy will be awarded to the top player in March.

2023 Naismith High School Girls Player of the Year Watch List

Sunaja Agara, Sr., G, Hopkins (Minn.), Stanford
Kamorea Arnold, Sr., PG, Germantown (Wis.), UConn
Carys Baker, Sr., F, Loomis Chaffee (Conn.), Virginia Tech
Sofia Bell, Sr., Wing, Jesuit (Ore.), Oregon
Madison Booker, Sr., W, Germantown (Miss.), Texas
Zoe Brooks, Sr., G, Saint John Vianney (N.J.), NC State
Jaloni Cambridge, Jr., PG, The Ensworth School, Uncommitted
Justice Carlton, Jr., PG, Seven Lakes (Texas), Uncommitted
Aaliyah Chavez, Soph., PG, Monterey (Texas), Uncommitted
Essence Cody, Sr., Post, Valdosta (Ga.), Alabama
Diana Collins, Sr., PG, Brookwood (Ga.), Ohio State
Breya Cunningham, Sr., Post, La Jolla Country Day (Calif.), Arizona
Jasmine Davidson, Soph., Wing, Clackamas (Ore.), Uncommitted
Aalyah Del Rosario, Sr., Post, The Webb School (Tenn.), LSU
Jadyn Donovan, Sr., G, Sidwell Friends (Washington, D.C.), Duke
Joyce Edwards, Jr., F, Camden (S.C.), Uncommitted
Milaysia Fulwiley, Sr., PG, W.J. Keenan (S.C.), South Carolina
Hannah Hidalgo, Sr., PG, Paul VI (N.J.), Notre Dame
Sahnya Jah, Sr., Wing, Montverde Academy (Fla.), South Carolina
Kymora Johnson, Sr., G, Saint Anne’s-Belfield (Va.), Virginia
Tessa Johnson, Sr., G, Saint Michael Albertville (Minn.), South Carolina
ZaKiyah Johnson, Soph., G, Sacred Heart (Ky.), Uncommitted
Ari Long, Sr., PG, Valley View (Calif.), Washington
Amanda Muse, Sr., Post, Heritage (Calif.), UCLA
Riley Nelson, Sr., Wing, Bullis School (Md.), Maryland
Mackenzie Nelson, Sr., PG, St. Luke’s School (Conn.), Virginia Tech
S’mya Nichols, Sr., Wing, Shawnee Mission West (Kan.), Kansas
Courtney Ogden, Sr., Wing, Westminster School (Ga.), Stanford
Olivia Olson, Jr., PG, Benilde Saint Margaret (Minn.), Michigan
Britt Prince, Jr., PG, Elkhorn North (Neb.), Uncommitted
Cassandre Prosper, Sr., F, Cairine Wilson Secondary School (Quebec, Canada), Notre Dame
Laila Reynolds, Sr., G, Shabach Christian Academy (Md.), Florida
Amiyah Reynolds, Sr., G, Washington (Ind.), Maryland
Emma Risch, Sr., G, Palm Bay Magnet (Fla.), Notre Dame
Qadence Samuels, Sr., F, Bishop McNamara (Md.), UConn
Taliah Scott, Sr., G, Saint John’s Country Day (Fla.), Arkansas
Sayvia Sellers, Sr., PG, Anchorage Christian Schools (Alaska), Washington
Ashlynn Shade, Sr., G, La Lumiere (Ind.), UConn
Sarah Strong, Jr., F, Grace Academy (N.C.), Uncommitted
Adhel Tac, Jr., Post, South Grand Prairie (Texas), Uncommitted
Delaney Thomas, Sr., F, St. John’s College (Washington, D.C.), Duke
Blanca Thomas, Jr., Post, Charlotte Catholic (N.C.), Uncommitted
Ciera Toomey, Sr., Post, Dunmore (Penn.), North Carolina
Letycia Vasconcelos, Sr., Post, Montverde Academy (Fla.), Baylor
Sammie Wagner, Sr., Wing, Ronald Reagan (Texas), Oregon
Juju Watkins, Sr., G, Sierra Canyon (Calif.), USC
Mikaylah Williams, Sr., G, Parkway (La.), LSU
Jada Williams, Sr., PG, La Jolla Country Day (Calif.), Arizona
Sahara Williams, Sr., Wing, West (Iowa), Oklahoma
Allie Ziebell, Jr., G, Neenah (Wis.), Uncommitted

Editor’s note: This is the last in a five-part series previewing the top five girls basketball players in the Class of 2023 before the start of the 2022-23 high school season. Click here to see the latest rankings from the Class of 2023. Counting down: No. 5 Hannah Hidalgo | No. 4 Aalyah Del Rosario | No. 3 Jadyn Donovan | No. 2 Juju Watkins | No. 1 Mikaylah Williams.

Leadership, superior guard skills, unmatched discipline, a genuine passion for the game of basketball — Mikaylah Williams has anything and everything a college coaching staff could want.

For years now, Williams has set herself apart from other members of the Class of 2023 with an ever-rising ceiling of potential.

She’s a three-time gold medalist with Team USA, the reigning Gatorade Louisiana Girls Basketball Player of the Year and the lone junior to be named a 2022 Naismith Player of the Year finalist.

Last year, the 6-foot Williams averaged 13.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game, leading Parkway High School (La.) to a first-place finish in Class 5A District 1. The Panthers ended the year with a 34-3 mark and lost in the state championship, but they return Williams and a host of others and will surely threaten to make another run.

Coach’s analysis

Parkway coach Gloria Williams, who has led the Panthers since 2016, has admired her star guard’s character in every aspect of life and the way it translates into her play on the basketball court.

“Her mindset sets her apart,” Gloria said. “Her discipline sets her apart when it comes to training. In the classroom, it sets her apart — she’s a 4.0 student — and her work ethic just sets her apart from everyone else.

“She’s a top-notch kid raised by great parents, and it’s bred in her. She communicates with her teammates on and off the court. She’s just that kid.”

It’s typical for Williams to appear as the calmest player on the floor, regardless of the score, situation or opponent. Her coach has seen that mentality rub off on her teammates and foster a culture of resilience and success.

“That’s her. Her demeanor doesn’t change,” Gloria said. “It’s always something positive, and she’s the calm to the team. It’s nothing that necessarily has been taught or something that’s learned. I think it’s just in her.

“Great leaders lead, but there are servant leaders. That’s how I see Mikaylah.”

Gloria cited Williams’ defensive improvement as the biggest key to her growth as a player. The guard she was in last season’s title game is not the same one who will take the court for Parkway in 2022-23.

“I am a defensive-minded coach, so I was extremely pleased with that,” Gloria said. “I’ve told her from the beginning, ‘You can score with the best of them,’ and to sit and stay in front of people and defend, that’s the portion that I am most proud of for her at this stage.

“We’ll see what she brings to the table for this season because I know it’s gonna be something.”

Catching up

This summer, Williams earned her second and third gold medals with Team USA — first, in Debrecen, Hungary with the U17 team, followed by her return to the 3×3 squad in August. Williams was once again named MVP of the 3×3 tournament.

She also wrapped up her AAU career with Mavs Elite and played in the Under Armour Next Elite 24 game.

Williams recently signed her National Letter of Intent with LSU, where she leads one of the most impressive classes of the 2023 cycle, alongside Aalyah Del Rosario and Angelica Velez of The Webb School (Tenn.) and Janae Kent of Oak Forest (Ill.)

“I believe she’s going to carry everything she’s learned with her to LSU,” Gloria said. “And I think she’s going to build on that. That’s one thing about her I can say: Every year she has brought something to the game of basketball here for us.

“Defensively, she stepped up last year, she can go to the basket any time that she wants to, and she has the frame of a college player already. When she gets to LSU, she’s just going to turn it up another notch because that’s her dream school. That’s where she wants to be. So, she’s going to give it everything that she has.”

Caroline Makauskas is a contributing writer for Just Women’s Sports. She also covers a variety of sports on her TikTok @cmakauskas. Follow her on Twitter @cmakauskas.

Mikaylah Williams, the top-ranked recruit from the class of 2023, announced Friday that she has committed to LSU.

The 6-foot-1 guard from Bossier City, Louisiana, chose Kim Mulkey’s LSU program over Ole Miss, Baylor, Duke and Texas A&M.

In 35 appearances for Parkway High School during the 2021-2022 season, Williams averaged 22.8 points, 8.0 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 2.2 steals, earning her the Gatorade Louisiana Girls Basketball Player of the Year award as a junior. She’s also one of 12 players who will compete next month on the USA national team at the FIBA U17 World Cup in Debrecen, Hungary.

“In order to take my game to the next level and to continue to learn and grow as a young woman, there’s only one place where I’ve wanted to be. Home,” Williams said in her announcement video. “I’ve decided I’ll be attending the Louisiana State University.”

Mulkey is in her second season with the Tigers, with the legendary coach looking to boost the program to national powerhouse status. After losing a series of seniors following the 2021-2022 season, Mulkey acquired Angel Reese, among others, from the transfer portal to join her No. 17 ranked 2022 recruiting class.