Angel Reese to return for LSU after 4-game absence

LSU star forward Angel Reese, who has missed four games for undisclosed reasons, is rejoining the seventh-ranked Tigers in advance of their matchup with No. 9 Virginia Tech on Thursday night.

LSU coach Kim Mulkey got straight to the point during a news conference Wednesday, saying, "Angel's back."

"It's a boost having her back," Mulkey said of Reese, the Most Outstanding Player of the 2023 NCAA tournament. "She's a tremendous player, one of the best in the country. She gives us a good matchup with [Elizabeth] Kitley, but it's not just for this game -- it's for the rest of the season."

Reese was benched for the second half of LSU's fourth game of the season against Kent State. She did not travel with the Tigers to the Cayman Islands over the Thanksgiving break to participate in the Cayman Islands Classic.

Defending champion LSU has gone 4-0 in Reese's absence, including a 76-73 victory over Virginia on Saturday.

Reese, who did not attend Wednesday's news conference, has not commented on her absence other than posting on social media: "Please don't believe everything you read."

Mulkey, a Hall of Famer and a four-time national championship winner as a coach, has defended her decision to hold back specifics about the nature of Reese's absence, saying it was an internal team matter about which the public didn't need to know.

Junior guard Kateri Poole, who also did not travel with the Tigers to the Cayman Islands, still isn't with the team. Mulkey did not give a timetable for Poole's return, saying only "Kateri's not [back]."

The Tigers lost another key player from their 2022-23 championship run when sophomore Sa'Myah Smith suffered a right knee injury in the first quarter of their 99-65 victory over Niagara on Nov. 24. Mulkey revealed Wednesday that injury was season-ending, saying that Smith tore an ACL, MCL and medial meniscus.

"It's just so sad for her, because she's improved by leaps and bounds," Mulkey said. "Angel being back kind of helps, but there's no substitute for the value of Sa'Myah and what she's meant."

Junior transfer Aneesah Morrow has stepped up for the Tigers, scoring a season-high 37 points against Virginia after pouring in 28 against Niagara.

LSU (7-1) hosts Virginia Tech (5-1) in a rematch of a national semifinal from the 2023 tournament, when the Tigers rallied from a nine-point fourth-quarter deficit to eliminate the top-seeded Hokies en route to the program's first national championship.

Reese had 24 points and 12 rebounds in the game, while Kitley led Virginia Tech with 18 points and 12 rebounds. Kitley is averaging 24.3 points and 11.5 rebounds this season, which both rank in the top 10 in the nation.