Angel Reese set to return, but burning questions remain for LSU

WEARING THEIR PURPLE warm-ups on Black Friday, Flau’jae Johnson, Aneesah Morrow and the LSU Tigers go through their pregame routine on the basketball court at John Gray High School. It’s minutes before their first game of the Cayman Islands Classic, and after a day of feasting and frolicking with stingrays, they’re ready to get back to the business of basketball.

A fire alarm sounds in the gym, but it alarms no one. Pardon the players. It’s been a season full of ear-splitting noise for the defending NCAA champions.

Favored to repeat, LSU suffered an opening-game loss to Colorado. Four games in, superstar Angel Reese was benched. The next game, coach Kim Mulkey pooh-poohed COVID testing as she sniffled through a news conference. Not even an island escape, it seemed, could shut out the noise.

But on Wednesday in Baton Rouge, one fire was seemingly put out when Mulkey announced that Reese was back. After missing four games, Reese will suit up for No. 7 LSU on Thursday night for the first time since Nov. 14 when the Tigers host No. 9 Virginia Tech (9 p.m. ET, ESPN) in a rematch of last year’s national semifinal.

But what happens next? Sure, Reese is returning, but the Tigers are a team that looks much different than the one she left. Junior guard Kateri Poole also sat out the Cayman Islands trip and has not rejoined the team. Sophomore forward Sa’Myah Smith is out for the rest of the season after tearing her ACL, MCL, and meniscus in the Cayman Islands opener. Transfers Hailey Van Lith and Morrow have emerged as leaders.

How the Tigers pick up the pieces from the past three-plus weeks could determine their championship hopes.