Prolific LSU forward Angel Reese and flashy freshman guard Flau’jae Johnson complemented their evident talent with ample composure.
“I’m blessed, and they got ice water in their veins,” LSU coach Kim Mulkey said. “We could have panicked when we’re down 3” in the final minutes.
“They probably led each other better than I led them as a coach in certain situations tonight,” Mulkey added.
Reese had 30 points and 19 rebounds to tie an LSU record with 19 straight double-doubles and the third-ranked, unbeaten Tigers pushed their program-record winning streak to 19 games with a 79-76 victory over Arkansas on Thursday night.
Arkansas was in position to take the lead from LSU (19-0, 7-0 SEC) in the final half-minute, but Erin Barnum’s 3-point attempt with 24 seconds left rimmed out and Reese snagged the crucial rebound.
Johnson, whom Arkansas fouled moments later, hit two free throws to make it 77-74 with 16 seconds left. She added two more with four seconds left to finish with 19 points.
“I didn’t feel nervous,” Johnson said. “At that point, I was like, ‘I’m not going to let my team down.’ I want to be in these situations at the end of these tight games, so I got to score.”
Reese, who was relentless around the basket and grabbed 13 of her rebounds on the offensive end, tied the LSU mark for consecutive double-doubles set by Sylvia Fowles during the 2006-07 season.
“I just tried to step up and be a leader and bring our team together,” said Reese, who could be seen gesticulating intensely during much of the second half. “Just try to guide them and keep them poised and keep them calm.”
Arkansas (17-4, 5-1) took a 69-66 lead on Makayla Daniels’ right-wing 3 in transition with 6:23 left, but Alexis Morris, who had not scored all game, tied it with a 3 on LSU’s next possession.
Arkansas regained the lead on another Daniels 3 and held it until Morris’ driving scoop put LSU back in front 75-74 with 2:09 left.
LaDazhia Williams had 11 points and 12 rebounds, and Jasmine Carson scored 10 points for the Tigers, who found themselves locked in one of their most competitive games yet this season after winning their first six conference contests by an average of 26.3 points, and none by fewer than 19.
“This was a great game tonight. We made a few more plays than they did,” Mulkey said. “We grew up tonight. If we would have lost, I would have said the same thing to you. It feels better when you win.”
Barnum scored 20 points for Arkansas (17-4, 4-2), who came in on a four-game winning streak and hadn’t lost since the last time they played LSU on Dec. 29 and were run off their own court, 69-45.
“Our kids should feel good about the improvement they made in 21 days,” Arkansas coach Mike Neighbors said. “We talked about that last game — it was a butt-whipping out there; it was not even close. Our improvement can be celebrated.
“I hate that we lost, don’t get me wrong, but I’m glad that we battled,” Neighbors added.
Samara Spencer scored 13 points and Chrissy Carr added 12 points for the Razorbacks.
LSU led 20-6 after Williams’ consecutive hoops in the paint, but Arkansas didn’t capitulate, responding with seven straight points, highlighted by Saylor Poffenbarger’s 3.
Spencer’s 3 trimmed LSU’s lead to six by the end of the opening quarter, and Arkansas twice got within five points in the second quarter.
The Tigers were back up by 12 after Reese made four straight free throws late in the second quarter, but the Razorbacks again closed the gap to 38-30 at halftime, thanks for consecutive baskets by Barnum and Spencer.
The Razorbacks had won their previous five road games and nearly made it a sixth by outshooting LSU 44.4% (28 of 63) to 43.3% (29 of 67). Arkansas also hit 10 of 29 from deep.
Tenacious paint presence made the difference for the Tigers, who outrebounded Arkansas 51-26 and converted 22 offensive rebounds into 23 second-chance points. LSU is now 45-6 since Mulkey left Baylor to take over the Tigers before last season.
Reese said she met Fowles just last Sunday when LSU unveiled a statue of Seimone Augustus outside the Tigers’ basketball training center.
“She’s really proud of me. She’s happy for me,” Reese said of Fowles. “Being able to be up there with Sylvia Fowles is amazing.”
Arkansas is at No. 1 South Carolina on Sunday. LSU is at Alabama on Monday.