LSU forward Angel Reese (10) drives to the basket against...

LSU forward Angel Reese (10) drives to the basket against Rice forward Malia Fisher and guard Destiny Jackson (5) during the second half of a first-round college basketball game in the women's NCAA Tournament in Baton Rouge, La., Friday, March 22, 2024. LSU won 70-60. Credit: AP/Gerald Herbert

BATON ROUGE, La. — Angel Reese balked at the suggestion that LSU could have its hands full with a Middle Tennessee front court that includes players listed at 6-foot-6 and 6-5.

“They have to go against Angel Reese, Aneesah Morrow, and Aalyah Del Rosario,” Reese shot back, eliciting a grin from teammate Flau'Jae Johnson, who sat beside her at the dais Saturday. “So they have to work on that and figure that out first.

“Secondly, we focus on our matchups, of course, in our film room,” Reese continued. “It’s going to be a team effort. It’s not going to be just two matchups. We have great guards, too. It’s going to be a team focus. If they focus on two players, they’re in trouble."

The defending national champion and third-seeded Tigers (29-5) will be on their home court when they meet No. 11 seed Middle Tennessee (30-4) on Sunday in the second round of the women's NCAA Tournament.

The Blue Raiders are on a 20-game winning streak after overcoming an 18-point, first-half deficit to beat Louisville in the first round on Friday.

The Blue Raiders' starting center is Anastasiia Boldyreva, listed at 6-6. Her backup is the 6-5 Iullia Grabovskaia, who sometimes is paired with Boldyreva in the front court. The two Russians have combined to block 108 shots this season.

That presents an intriguing matchup with LSU. Its top two scorers this season have been the 6-3 Reese (19 points per game) and fellow post player Morrow (16.5), who is 6-1.

Middle Tennessee head coach Rick Insell talks to center Iullia...

Middle Tennessee head coach Rick Insell talks to center Iullia Grabovskaia (55) and center Anastasiia Boldyreva (2) during the first half of a first-round college basketball game against Louisville in the women's NCAA Tournament in Baton Rouge, La., Friday, March 22, 2024. Credit: AP/Gerald Herbert

Boldyreva sounds eager for the test that Reese will present.

“She's a highly athletic player, obviously,” Boldyreva said. “She physical, really fast. ... We just know she's all around the rim, and we've got to try to match it.”

Boldyreva also has noticed the emotion Reese plays with, and is bracing for some psychological gamesmanship. Reese is widely remembered for glaring at Iowa star Caitlin Clark and pointing at her ring finger when LSU was on the verge of defeating the Hawkeyes in last season's national title game.

“It's always difficult because they get the (home) crowd and they get hyped,” Boldyreva said. “We just need to not get sucked into talking back or being chippy. We just have to stay in our game.”

LSU forward Angel Reese (10) leaps for a rebound during...

LSU forward Angel Reese (10) leaps for a rebound during the second half of a first-round college basketball game against Rice in the women's NCAA Tournament in Baton Rouge, La., Friday, March 22, 2024. LSU won 70-60. Credit: AP/Gerald Herbert

VALUING THE BALL

LSU looked somewhat off its game in the first round against Rice, turning the ball over a season-high 24 times.

Coach Kim Mulkey and her players described the performance as ugly. So ugly, in fact, that Mulkey didn't even bother reviewing video of the game.

“Oh, Lord,” Mulkey said. “Middle Tennessee’s too good for me to worry about what happened (Friday). No, we’re watching Middle Tennessee as soon as that game was over. We don’t even talk about that game. No, I don’t want to go back and look at that.”

The Tigers saw the performance as uncharacteristic and fixable. Middle Tennessee players who watched LSU's game on Friday seemed to agree.

“I know they can play better than that,” Middle Tennessee guard Jalynn Gregory said. “I’ve seen them, and I’ve watched them. So I know what they’re capable of. We’re going to expect their best. So they’re also going to get our best.

“We are not going to underestimate them,” she said.

HISTORY LESSON

Sunday's game will mark the second time LSU and Middle Tennessee have met in the second round of an women's NCAA Tournament.

The first time was back in 1986. LSU won, 78-65.

LSU and MTSU have met five times in all, with the Tigers winning three.

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