There is no such thing as an undercard when you’re the one in the ring, and if you think Angel Reese is just a warmup act for Caitlin Clark and Aliyah Boston … well, you tell her. Reese is the “other” first-team All-American still playing in the NCAA tournament, an LSU rebounding machine who could dominate any Final Four—including this one.
In four NCAA tournament games, Reese has averaged 22.25 points and 17.25 rebounds. She has grabbed a rebound almost every other minute. Sometimes, LSU’s coaches remind the other Tigers not to stand around and wait for Reese to do their board work for them. She is their teammate, not their valet. But if Reese’s teammates expect her to grab every single rebound, that is understandable. So does Reese.
Reese transferred to LSU from Maryland last May, and she exemplifies both the power of the transfer portal and the importance of choosing the right destination. LSU coach Kim Mulkey is one of the most polarizing in the sport; Thursday morning, she admitted she has not spoken to her former Baylor star, Brittney Griner, since Griner was freed from Russian prison, and she tight-walked her way through a question on transgender athletes with an answer that was both cringy and not quite as cringy as expected. But Mulkey is unquestionably one of the best coaches in the world, relentlessly demanding and tactically brilliant. Mulkey provided the discipline that Reese needed. She has helped Reese go from good to great.
LSU assistant coach Bob Starkey says after Reese transferred, “I just took a quick look at her stats and saw she averaged 20 minutes. I said, ‘How can a coach not play her more than 20 minutes?’”
The answer was in the rule book. Players are granted five fouls per game, and Reese used hers like she had an NIL deal that paid her for every hack. Last fall LSU’s coaches made it a point to officiate her tightly in practice. When Reese picked up a second foul in a scrimmage, her coaches would send her to the bench, like in a game. Mulkey harped on her conditioning—Reese says, “I've gotten in way better shape and I've gotten much stronger”—and her habits, telling her not to get any “cheapies.” Reese’s steal rate went down this year, which was by design. Reese loves to steal the ball, but LSU coaches decided the reach-in fouls were not worth the risk, especially early in games. Reese went from one foul every 8.4 minutes as a Maryland sophomore to one every 13.6 minutes at LSU.
“Of all the things she's done this year, that’s the one I’m most proud of,” Starkey says. “She's learned how to play and stay on the floor without fouling.”
Reese fouled out only twice all year, and only one of those—in LSU’s Sweet 16 win over Utah—had any impact on the game. (She fouled out of the Elite Eight game against Miami, but four of her fouls came in the fourth quarter, and the last came in the final minute, with LSU up by 15.)
Now foul trouble works in Reese’s favor—because now the players guarding her are the ones in foul trouble. Players foul her for the same reason offensive linemen often commit holding penalties—the alternative is getting beaten by a quicker, stronger player. This should be the No. 1 for Virginia Tech. The Hokies basically play six players. What happens if Reese sends two to the bench in the first half?
LSU coaches did not teach Reese to rebound. She brought that gift with her to Baton Rouge. Reese combines ferocity, agility, size and intelligence. She has a natural knack for knowing where the ball will carom, the lateral quickness to evade box-outs and the ingrained belief that every ball has her name on it.
LSU’s women practice against a group of men that they call the Dream Team. Starkey says in one preseason scrimmage against the Dream Team, Reese grabbed more than 20 rebounds in the first three quarters: “She was just unstoppable.” When players shoot really well in practice, coaches often wonder whether they will do it in games, when thousands are watching and anxiety can kick in. But since rebounding is predicated on effort, not nerves, Starkey had the inverse of that concern: If Reese competed that hard when nobody was watching, what would she do when they were?
The country has an answer now. In the second round, Reese grabbed almost as many rebounds (24) as the entire Michigan team (26)—and Michigan was the third-best rebounding team in the Big Ten. Logic says LSU’s run will end—either against the Hokies, who were a No. 1 seed, or in the final against South Carolina, the nation’s best team, which forced Reese into her worst game of the season in February. But Reese has stayed on the floor all year. She won’t leave it meekly.