ALBANY, N.Y. — Angel Reese fell to the floor and lay flat on her stomach. When she heard the whistle, she balled up her fists and pounded the court in excitement.

Less than two minutes remained in a Sweet 16 matchup with No. 2-seeded UCLA in MVP Arena, and her No. 3 LSU Tigers trailed by a point, but Reese — who is third nationally in free throws made this season — was about to go to the line for a chance to tie the game and take the lead after being fouled by Bruins forward Angela Dugalić.

Reese connected on both.

“I’ve worked on free throws all year. Just being able to understand I can step up to the line and make those and be confident that my teammates and my coaches have confidence in me,” Reese told The Baltimore Banner. “Just being able to keep playing physical. … It’s just maturity, knowing when to attack players.”

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About 40 seconds later, UCLA’s Lauren Betts was at the line, and Reese had battled with her all day long in the post. LSU led by three, and Betts hit her first free throw but missed the second. As the ball rattled off the rim, Reese sprang into the air, grabbing the rebound with both hands. On the next possession, LSU’s Flau’Jae Johnson scored to put the Tigers ahead by two possessions as seconds ticked off the clock.

Reese fouled out with 31 seconds to play, but she had done enough to put her teammates in a position to win. She jogged back to the bench with swagger, barking at UCLA’s bench before slapping the hand of coach Kim Mulkey and taking a seat.

But not for long. She jumped up and down ecstatically when Johnson blocked a shot from Dugalić and kept hopping and smiling as Aneesah Morrow drew a foul and hit both free throws to put the game on ice.

“I wasn’t worried. I put so much confidence in my teammates,” Reese said. “It took a team effort.”

And so, for the second consecutive year, an LSU team powered by a native of Baltimore and a product of Saint Frances Academy is advancing to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament. Reese finished with 16 points, 11 rebounds, two blocks, four steals and an assist as the Tigers beat the Bruins 78-69 on Saturday afternoon.

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In the next round, LSU will get a rematch with Iowa — and its star, Caitlin Clark. The Tigers beat the Hawkeyes in the national final a year ago.

When asked after the game about what she said to UCLA’s sideline as she walked off the floor, Reese deflected with a quick response: “Next question.”

But she was happy to discuss her play, which was important and impressive against a UCLA team that had won 27 games and ranked in the top 15 in offensive and defensive rating.

Near the end of the first quarter, Reese went hard after an offensive rebound and got whacked in the face by Betts. Blood began to drip from her nose, but she pinched her nostrils, sniffled and remained in the game until there was a break in play. Then a trainer stuffed a bit of cotton in her right nostril, and Reese continued to battle for boards and buckets with the Bruins.

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“Like ever, my nose has never bled in my life,” Reese said. “So, I was so confused as to what was going on. I had to put something in my nose. Hopefully, the camera didn’t catch that.”

Angel Reese of LSU vies for rebounding position against two UCLA players during the Tigers' win over the Bruins in the third round of the NCAA tournament March 30, 2024, in Albany, New York.
Angel Reese of LSU vies for rebounding position against two UCLA players Saturday during the Tigers’ win in the third round of the NCAA tournament. (Mitchell Northam / For The Baltimore Banner)

With under three minutes to play in the first half, Reese posted up Betts near the left elbow. When she caught the ball, though, she didn’t try to drive to the basket or spin around the 6-foot-7 sophomore. She threw a two-handed bounce pass hard behind her right leg to Morrow, who connected on the layup with relative ease. Reese then turned to the crowd as she ran back on defense, wrapping her thumbs and index fingers around her eyes to resemble goggles. Indeed, Reese has the vision to be a superb passer too. It was the highlight of a 16-6 run that gave LSU a 10-point lead.

“She does stuff like that in practice where I’m like, ‘Whoa.’ She can see. She knows where we’re going to be,” Johnson said of Reese. “You know, when you’re getting doubled every game and you’re able to hit your teammates, that’s a skill. That’s an underrated thing. She’s like a point forward.”

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In the third quarter, Reese was whistled for two fouls in the span of 10 seconds — one for reaching in on Charisma Osborne, and another for fouling Betts while shooting. A few expletives came out of Reese’s mouth as she huddled with her teammates before Betts attempted her foul shots. The first one was good, but the second bounced off the left side of the rim and Reese spun off the block and leaped to grab it.

With 8:16 to play, Reese was whistled for her fourth foul, trying to guard Bethesda native Kiki Rice as she drove to the basket. Reese immediately began marching toward LSU’s bench and a sequined and angry Mulkey. She knew she would have to sit for a large chunk of the fourth quarter as she watched her teammates try to regain and retain the advantage.

Reese reentered the game four minutes later as LSU trailed by three and immediately drew a foul from Betts. On LSU’s next offensive possession, Reese connected on a layup, cutting the UCLA lead to a point. Her clutch free throws came just moments later, followed by a block attempt on Betts that fouled her out of the game.

“That was a block,” Reese argued after the game. “We’re going to check the film on that.”

But Reese’s confidence in her teammates never wavered. The play of Johnson was a big reason Reese had no worries.

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Johnson finished with 24 points and 12 rebounds — team highs in both stats — and let Reese know during the postgame press conference that she had more rebounds.

“Just one,” Reese said through a smile.

“She did a lot of big things today,” Reese said of her sophomore teammate. “She was happy she got more rebounds than me tonight. She blocked that shot, and she rubbed that in my face as well.”

Last year during LSU’s run to the national championship, Reese was the star, but Alexis Morris, Jasmine Carson and LaDazhia Williams also contributed. The same thing seems to be occurring with the Tigers this year. It’s just different supporting cast members.

And that has become a winning formula.

“Apparently, people thought we were just a bunch of individuals, so we took that personal, and we do have stars on our team — we do — and people don’t think that we’re supposed to jell together,” Reese said. “We’ve jelled together all year. Some nights it’s me, some nights it’s [Morrow], some nights it’s Flau’Jae. It’s so many different players on any given night, and people don’t realize that. Like we have a purpose, and our purpose is to get to the championship, and we don’t care who scores.”

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