Why Kellie Harper laughed when Kim Mulkey said LSU is 'not supposed to beat Tennessee'

Cora Hall
Knoxville News Sentinel

When Lady Vols basketball coach Kellie Harper heard what Kim Mulkey said Thursday, she laughed.

The LSU coach said she doesn't think her team is "supposed to beat Tennessee."

"Interesting take," Harper said during her Saturday media availability.

LSU (20-0, 8-0 SEC) is ranked No. 3 in the USA TODAY Sports coaches poll and No. 4 in the Associated Press Top 25. Tennessee (16-7, 8-0) was left on the cusp of a spot in last week's AP Top 25.

"They were picked No. 2 in this league in the preseason," Mulkey said of Tennessee. "They have more depth than we do. It's going to be quite a challenge."

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Tennessee heads to Baton Rouge to take on the Tigers in front of a projected sold-out crowd at Pete Maravich Assembly Center on Monday (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2). The Lady Vols are coming off an 84-67 loss to No. 4 UConn in front of the program's biggest home crowd since 2015.

Tennessee goes from one big-time game and environment to another, and despite Thursday's outcome, Harper said the result was still important for the Lady Vols.

"The people that have played in that game before understand the environment," Harper said. "We had some people that just haven't been in that game. And that's OK, that's an experience that will be good for them now moving forward."

Harper praised the work of Jillian Hollingshead in Thursday's game. The sophomore forward played with poise, physicality and nearly notched a double-double (11 points, nine rebounds). The only disappointing thing for Harper was that the Lady Vols didn't get Hollingshead the ball enough.

"I thought she played well in a big-time environment against a big-time team ... I think that's good for her. It's good for our team," Harper said. "She's skilled with size and love to see that competitiveness come out in her. I think we can really, really grow from this."

Tennessee's Jillian Hollingshead (53) protecting the ball from UConn's Aubrey Griffin (44) during the NCAA college basketball game between the Tennessee Lady Vols and Connecticut Huskies in Knoxville, Tenn. on Thursday, January 26, 2023.

Hollingshead and the other Lady Vols post players will have another challenge Monday with junior forward Angel Reese, who has tallied a double-double in every game this season.

"She has a knack for the ball and she's long," Harper said. "We're not going to be able to shut her down in (rebounding), but you've just got to try to make things very difficult for her."