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LSU head coach Kim Mulkey coaches against Florida, Sunday, February 20, 2022, at the LSU PMAC in Baton Rouge, La.

Coming up with a season theme wasn’t too hard for LSU coach Kim Mulkey, it falls into place like the missing ‘piece’ of a puzzle.

In her second year after a sensational first, Mulkey will have to “Piece it 2gether” to continue building on last year’s surprising 26-6 record and second place finish in the SEC.

“The 2 signifies our second year,” Mulkey said at Monday’s news conference to launch preseason practice. “We have a lot of talent on the floor. We’ve got to piece it together. We’ve got kids coming from other programs, high school kids stepping on college campus for the first time, returning players who have to play different roles. It takes time.”

A program full of seniors last year turned into one with nine new, albeit highly talented, faces. Mulkey likely won the NCAA women’s basketball transfer portal sweepstakes with four accomplished and experienced players, led by Maryland All-American Angel Reese.

Mulkey also scored well in recruiting with four major names, topped by guard/rapper Flaujau Johnson, and there are six players returning from the team that earned a No. 3 regional seed, topped by guard Alexis Morris, the team’s second leading scorer.

Toss in the nation’s No. 1 JUCO recruit in Last-Tear Poa and Mulkey has a team that may be lacking in last year’s cohesion but provides more depth and overall talent. Expectations might be tricky to manage.

“We won 26 basketball games and finished second in the league to the national champions,” Mulkey said of last year’s team. “There’s no way you can stand here today and think you are going to do better than that. We aspire to do that, but I can’t look into a crystal ball and see how quickly we get on the same page.”

The most important returning player will be Morris, who averaged 15 points per game and whose value was underscored the hard way. LSU wasn’t the same team when she suffered a sprained knee late in the season. Her role could change in that she may see more action at point guard, which is what she wants.

Mulkey said she will likely play three positions.

“Alex is itching to be the point guard,” Mulkey said. “Every day, it’s ‘Am I going to get the point?’ I tell her ‘Every time we put the ball in your hands they’re going to trap you and you’ve got to get rid of it. Are you sure you want to play point? Don’t you want to score?”

Mulkey can also trust holdover Ryann Payne, who played more in Morris’ absence. But the scoring load should have plenty of takers, even with All-SEC point guard Khayla Pointer gone. Pointer carried more than her share and took just about every clutch shot.

Reese, the most sought-after player in the transfer portal, will make LSU more formidable offensively in the paint. The 6-2 sophomore averaged 17.8 points and 10.6 rebounds, and added 53 steals with 36 blocks, helping Maryland to the Sweet 16 last year.

Mulkey called her a “tremendous basketball player” who can “leap out of the gym. She’s very vocal, she loves the game. She’ll be one of our leaders, not because she’s one of the more talented ones but because it’s her third year in college.”

LaDhazia Williams gives LSU another strong inside presence as a 6-4 graduate senior with a 58.2 field goal percentage, second in the SEC. Jasmine Carson brings good 3-point shooting as does Poa, who shot 43.5 from deep last season.

Johnson and Miss Texas Basketball Player of the Year Sa’Myah Smith give LSU a pair of long guards with big futures. Mulkey said basketball will come first for Johnson, the No. 6 guard in the country.

“(She’s) not going to miss basketball to perform, or whatever she does with rapping,” Mulkey said. “Both can be done. Basketball comes first in basketball season. She’s probably got a ton of NIL deals.”

One thing Mulkey has is a pre-conference schedule more conducive to program building, one she didn’t inherit. It will still be a matter of sewing together disparate elements but there is certainly more to work with.

“We have more depth; we don’t have the same kind of experience,” Mulkey said. “I thought we were athletic at some positions, also very productive at positions maybe we didn’t think we would be.

“We’re going to use several of them (at multiple positions). It’s our job to figure it out to see what they’re best at. Shooting a 3, taking it off the dribble, who pushes it up, who has trouble. I have a lot more numbers on the perimeter.”

Practice notes

Forwards Amani Bartlett and Izzy Besselman did not practice on the first day because of minor injuries. Hannah Gusters was also absent from practice for undisclosed reasons.