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LSU coach Kim Mulkey reacts to a call during a game against Iowa State on Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021, at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge.

It might be too early to say Kim Mulkey’s efforts to reignite a once-proud LSU women’s basketball program are way ahead of schedule, but its clear the Tigers took a giant leap forward last week.

LSU’s 69-60 victory Thursday came against Iowa State, a perennial NCAA tournament team and a regular resident of the upper echelon of the Top 25, not one scuffling around in the 20s. The game was tight at times, but LSU led from midway in the second quarter on, and the victory can be classified as decisive.

With 11 days off because of final exams, Mulkey can continue to tinker with her budding creation and come out of their break like a juggernaut, perhaps even ranked. LSU moved up six spots in the way-too-early rankings to No. 6. Even better, Iowa State moved up two spots to No. 20 with the loss.

LSU returns to action against Texas Southern on Dec. 12 in the PMAC. At 6-1, LSU is in good shape to top last year’s victory total of nine before the month is out. Ten wins is one of Mulkey’s stated “celebration” milestones, along with beating a ranked team, getting ranked and making the NCAA tournament.

Mulkey said she knew her team wasn’t ready to play an opponent like Florida Gulf Coast in its second game of the season, but that the Tigers have responded as they've grown together through practice and the season’s first three weeks.

“We didn’t allow that (loss) to defeat us,” Mulkey said. “We kept growing and challenging them in practice. When you see some success, like going to Puerto Rico. ... we played terrible at UL (on Nov. 18, a 70-41 win) but kept hanging in there, trying to grind. Watching confidence build and put these kids in a position they understand you are good, we can win these games.

“We celebrated beating Mizzou State. We’re going to celebrate tonight," Mulkey said Thursday. "Why wouldn’t we? And we’ll celebrate winning that 10th game, and when we have that winning season. All those things add up and maybe we get the NCAA bid. That’s how you build it.”

Building fan base

Another Mulkey goal is to build the crowds back to the level of the 2004-08 Final Four years, and she’s off to a good start. Season ticket sales are around 4,500, and Thursday's crowd was an estimated 5,800 for an 8 p.m. tipoff, competing with a New Orleans Saints TV game against the Dallas Cowboys.

It was likely the biggest crowd in the past five years, and the players noticed.

“They impact us like we impact them,” said senior transfer Alexis Morris, who had a career-high 25 points. “We need our fans. Without our fans I don’t know if we would have had the kick we had tonight. We appreciate them.”

Khayla Pointer, who had 20 points, led the rest of her teammates to the student section to celebrate the victory.

“I see the boys go over there after their games and high-five them,” Pointer said, “Even seeing them lined up outside before the game was exciting. We feed off the fans. There’s a different energy inside the PMAC, especially when we go on a run.”

Cherry OK

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LSU got a scare when fifth-year senior starting guard Jailin Cherry’s left knee buckled as she drove for a breakaway layup in the second quarter. Mulkey said Cherry is fine and was cleared to return to the game, although she didn’t.

“It looked like it might be what we all fear,” Mulkey said. “I told her out there, ‘Whatever it is, it’s fixable. We’ll get your year back. We’ll do the waiver and everything. Roll over and let them examine you.’ ”

Batter up

Mulkey and Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly have a long history on opposing sidelines and a strong friendship off the court. Fennelly, his son Billy and grandson Will are all die-hard St. Louis Cardinals baseball fans. Before Thursday’s game, Mulkey presented the elder Fennelly a bat and ball for Will, signed by her son Kramer Robertson, an infielder in the Cardinals’ organization and former LSU All-American.

The generosity ended there as the Tigers handed the Cyclones their first loss in eight games, improving Mulkey’s record against Fennelly to 31-6.

Blazing blazer

Fans and TV viewers took notice of Mulkey's glittery blazer Thursday, adorned with large, colorful butterflies. It nearly didn’t hold up, she said, as she tore a hole in the back right shoulder with her excited fist-pumping during the game.

After the final horn sounded, she got doused with water in the victory celebration.

“They’re going to pay for this jacket,” Mulkey joked. “It’s not against NCAA rules. It’s worth every bit of it that’s wet.”

Pointer wasn’t sure if the celebratory bath was a good idea for their first-year coach.

“When they came up with the idea, I was like, ‘Are y’all sure y’all want to do that?’ ”

Coach to coach

Mulkey also visited pregame with newly hired football coach Brian Kelly, who stuck around an extra day after his introductory news conference after Mulkey extended an informal invitation Tuesday. The two coaches exchanged a double high-five.