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LSU coach Kim Mulkey coaches against Tulane, Tuesday, November 23, 2021, at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

LSU coach Kim Mulkey expects a different Tiger basketball team to show up against unbeaten and No. 14-ranked Iowa 

State in the Big 12/SEC challenge in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center at 8 p.m. Thursday.

Not totally transformed, but different, as in better.

Stealing away to Puerto Rico for a couple of games can do that for a team in its early stages of congealing. LSU came home with victories against New Mexico State and Missouri State with lessons learned and a chance to bond as a team can’t be overlooked.

“We’re getting better in a lot of phases of the game,” Mulkey said of the trip which improved her first LSU team to 5-1. “Taking care of the ball, executing on offense, defensively understanding matchups when you get caught in transition defense. . . we’re relaxing and becoming more comfortable.

“The more we get to be on the floor as a staff and players, the more we know each other. Then when the lights come on it’s real, it’s not practice any more. The more we can play, the more mistakes we make the better we get. It takes time. You can’t rush time.”

The Tigers are already more than halfway to Mulkey’s first stated goal, to win 10 games, one more than last year. The team has experienced some rough patches even in victory, which Mulkey knows will only make them better.

Against New Mexico State, LSU fell behind early and rallied to win by 20 points. Against a formidable Missouri State team, the script was slightly altered. The Tigers got off to a big lead only to see it vanish after halftime, but came back to reassert momentum in a 66-58 victory that will look good on an NCAA Tournament resume.

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“It was a great experience, a great time,” senior transfer Alexis Morris said. “We had a lot of team bonding. Missouri State was a big win for us. It gave us a lot of confidence. They were a Sweet 16 team.”

Khayla Pointer led LSU in points in both games and averages 17.8 while Morris is next at 11.8. While the Tigers leaned on Point, Mulkey said she’s happy with the team’s scoring balance.

The latter victory is good preparation for another national powerhouse team in 7-0 Iowa State, one that Mulkey knows well from her time at Baylor. It’s also another test of the Tigers ability to deal with a team that shoots more 3-point shots than 2-pointers.

Cyclones coach Bill Fennelly has taken his team to 19 NCAA tournaments in his 26 years with two elite Eight and five Sweet 16 appearances. He’s 713—337 overall, which includes seven seasons at Toledo, and 547-284 at Iowa State, where he was given a lifetime contract in 2006.

Mulkey warned that the Cyclones are similar to Florida Gulf Coast, which handed LSU its only loss. Similar, but also different in that the Cyclones play with a post as opposed to FGCU’s five-out alignment which gave LSU matchup problems.

“Iowa State has post play; they have three in particular that shoot the 3 as good as anybody FGCU has but, a totally different system,” she said. “The defense is different. Bill Fennelly will throw every defense imaginable at us: sagging man, zone, triangle and 2, box and 1. I’ve been going against him 21 years and he always has great shooters. They play within themselves but, boy, do they expose you because they can flat out shoot the ball.”

The Cyclones ace is 6-1 senior guard Ashley Joens, who is averaging 20.3 points per game and 9.3 rebounds. Guards Lexi Donarski and Aubrey Joens average 16.6 and 13.4 respectively. The threesome has connected on 73 of 176 3-pointers for a 41.5 average.