GREENVILLE, S.C. – LaDazhia Williams was determined to extend her career. Thanks to her best game of the season, her LSU teammates will get to keep playing, too.
“I’m not ready to home,” she said. “We already know where we want to go.”
Williams and the third-seeded Tigers reached the Elite Eight for the first time in 15 years, holding off No. 2 seed Utah 66-63 on Friday night.
Williams had a season-high 24 points to boost LSU (31-2).
Alexis Morris, another fifth-year transfer like Williams, had 15 points. Her two foul shots with 10 seconds left put LSU ahead for good, 64-63. She later made two more free throws.
“We’re just hungry right now,” Morris said. “I know we’re fueled up and we’re fired up. We’re one game away from going to the Final Four.”
Angel Reese added 17 points and 12 rebounds for her 31st double double of the season.
Coach Kim Mulkey's Tigers can reach their first Final Four since 2008 on Sunday night when they face No. 9 seed Miami to close the Greenville 2 Regional. The Hurricanes overcame fourth-seeded Villanova and the nation’s leading scorer Maddy Siegrist 70-65 earlier at the Greenville 2 Regional.
“I think we fought hard all four quarters,” Reese said. “We’ve been through so much from the beginning to the end, so I’m just super happy for this team.”
Not that there weren't some anxious moments at the end.
Down 64-63, the Utes had a chance to back in front, but Jenna Johnson — a near 75% foul shooter — missed both attempts with 4.7 seconds to go. Utah's Dasia Young had her hands on the rebound, but LSU's Sa'Maya Smith took it away.
Morris made two more foul shots for a three-point lead. The Utes had a final chance, but Young’s 3-point try from the left corner hit the side of the backboard as time expired.
Utah coach Lynne Roberts had her arm around Johnson on the bench after the misses.
“I don’t think that’ll happen again if she gets that opportunity again, knowing her, the competitor she is,” Roberts said.
LSU hadn’t advance this far since reaching the Final Four 15 years ago. This is Mulkey's second season coaching the Tigers.
Williams, who played at South Carolina and Missouri before joining LSU, was dominant down low as she made 11 of 14 shots and finished a point shy of her career best.
Gianna Kneepkens led Utah (27-5) with 20 points. Alissa Pili, a second-team AP All-American, had 14 points, but took just eight shots as LSU denied her the ball. She fouled out in the final minute.
Reese, Poole and fellow LSU starter Flau'jae Johnson fouled out in the final minutes.
LSU: The Tigers are out for more and it starts against underdog Miami on Sunday. If Williams can continue her inside play to combine with All-American Reese, LSU will be tough to handle.
Utah: The Utes are coming off a season where they achieved big things, including back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances for the first time since 2008 and 2009. Utah can be every bit as successful next season with Pili, just a junior, back to lead the way.
Mulkey, known as a flamboyant dresser, had on a multi-colored jacket that appeared to include feathers on both sleeves. Mulkey said the designer was sending her another outfit to wear Sunday in the Elite Eight game. “We told her this is probably her best (out) fit,” Williams said.
LSU football coach Brian Kelly took a break from the Tigers spring football workouts to cheer on his school's women's basketball team. Kelly sat in the front row across from the LSU bench, following the action intently in the tight contest. The football Tigers are coming off a 10-4 season where they won the SEC Western Division in Kelly's first season.
TOUGH SPOT Johnson had made 74.8% of her free throws on the season, though she had made just 5 of 11 in the two tournament wins against Gardner-Webb and Princeton. Her first free throw fell short of the rim, causing LSU fans to get even louder to up the intensity before her second shot, which rattled out.
“I don’t think the noise so much affected me,” Johnson said, her eyes welling with tears. “I don’t know, maybe in my head a little bit from the first one. But I don’t know.” ___
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