The crowds of fans waiting for autographs and selfies after Louisiana State women’s basketball games have gotten so large that the team has been traveling with a police officer.
On a squad full of personalities, the main attraction is Angel Reese, who is known around Baton Rouge as the Bayou Barbie. A 6-foot-3 forward from Baltimore, she is writing her name in L.S.U.’s record books and is among the leading candidates for national player of the year.
In the team’s regular-season finale, the largest home crowd of them all, 15,271 fans — a record for either men’s or women’s basketball at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center — saw Reese notch her 27th double-double of the season. She did it by the second quarter. After the Tigers closed out their victory over Mississippi State, Shaquille O’Neal, one of the most recognizable former L.S.U. players, met her on the court.
It was just the latest banner moment in a season full of them for Reese, who transferred from Maryland before the season and has become the leading player for one of Division I’s top teams. As she is swatting shots, snatching rebounds and craftily banking in scoop layups, she is playing the Baltimore way.
“I feel like that’s what separates me from a lot of players, that I have that dog mentality and I always want to go out there and win and I’m very passionate about that,” Reese said in a phone interview last week. “So whoever’s in front of me, I’m going to go get it, and I’m going to talk trash to you the whole entire game, and that’s that.”
Reese has played an instrumental role as the Tigers (27-1, 15-1 Southeastern Conference) have followed a 26-win campaign in Coach Kim Mulkey’s first season by matching the best regular season in program history: that of the 2004-5 Final Four team that featured Sylvia Fowles and Seimone Augustus.
The backcourt has also helped propel Louisiana State to its No. 4 ranking in the Associated Press poll. Alexis Morris is averaging 14.5 points and nearly two steals per game in her second stint playing for Mulkey, after starting her career at Baylor. And then there’s Flau’jae Johnson, the SEC freshman of the year and, as an “America’s Got Talent” judge said, a “beast to be reckoned with” as a rapper.
But Reese is the engine powering the Tigers. She has recorded five games with at least 20 points and 20 rebounds, and she ranks in the top five in Division I in points and rebounds per game.
Her 23 consecutive double-doubles to start the season — breaking Fowles’s program record streak of 19 — included scoring 10 fourth-quarter points against Georgia to stave off an upset attempt last month. If Reese tallies another double-double during the SEC tournament this weekend in Greenville, S.C., or in the N.C.A.A. tournament that starts later this month, she will break Fowles’s single-season team record.
The only team to hold Reese below a double-double, and the only team to beat L.S.U. so far this season, was No. 1 South Carolina, the reigning national champion. The teams can meet again on Sunday, in the SEC title game, if they both win their first two tournament games.
Fans had been salivating over last month’s matchup between Reese and South Carolina forward Aliyah Boston, who was the player of the year in 2022. After the game, an 88-64 Gamecocks win, Reese and Boston chatted in the South Carolina arena, complimenting each other’s skills and the way they each promote the sport.
“I think her rebounding is out the roof,” Boston said in a phone interview last week. “I think she does a great job of pursuing the basketball and just crashing and just being, you know, that dominant player on L.S.U.’s roster.”
Reese’s friendships with other players haven’t dulled her competitive edge. That was on display on Feb. 19, in a game against Florida. Nina Rickards made a contested layup against Reese and taunted her as the ball went in. Less than two minutes later, Reese spiked Rickards’s shot at the rim as if it were a volleyball and shouted. The players, who Reese said have been friends since high school, both received technical fouls.
Reese’s fire got the most attention during a game against Arkansas in January. She had lost a shoe during a play; as she tried to slip it back on her foot, Samara Spencer of the Razorbacks began driving down the lane. With her shoe in her left hand, Reese blocked the shot with her right and yelled down at Spencer on the floor. That resulted in a technical, too.
After the game, a 3-point win for L.S.U., Reese said on Twitter, “Let’s normalize women showing passion for the game instead of it being ‘embarrassing.’”
When Reese does receive technicals, Mulkey usually asks the referees what Reese said or did. Sometimes, she said, it was just a look.
“I tell her, ‘I will decide if you’ve crossed the line, and if you have then you’ll come sit by me,’” Mulkey said in an interview last week. “And yet at the same time I also teach her, you know, even if you didn’t cross the line, you better hope that we don’t lose by two free throws that they’re going to get.
“You just teach her,” Mulkey said. “You never want to take passion away from players.”
Reese’s trainer has often seen that intensity. Jimmy Price, a longtime friend of the family, said that drive stood out specifically after a game during Reese’s freshman year at St. Frances Academy in Baltimore, “when I knew she arrived.” Reese had 24 points and 20 rebounds in a national semifinal, but her team lost in overtime.
“After the game, she was just crying and crying, and she just didn’t want to be bothered with anybody,” Price said. “And I see that’s a heart of a champion. Only champions do that.”
After four standout years at St. Frances, Reese joined Maryland as the No. 2 recruit nationally in her class, behind only Connecticut guard Paige Bueckers. Her brother Julian joined the men’s team at Maryland the next season.
A fracture in her right foot limited Reese to just 15 games as a freshman, but she broke out as a sophomore, averaging a double-double with nearly 18 points per game. In the Terrapins’ N.C.A.A. tournament loss to Stanford, their second consecutive defeat in the round of 16, Reese had 25 points, 9 rebounds, 3 steals and 3 blocks. It would be her last game at Maryland.
After the season, she decided she “needed something new.” A third-team all-American, a local prospect who had joined Maryland as the top recruit in program history, suddenly entered the transfer portal as one of the most talented players available.
“I needed a fresh start, a coach to push me to get me to the next level,” she said. “I want to be a top draft pick and I want to win at the highest level, so being able to come to L.S.U. and build with Coach Mulkey and everything she has done in one year was just something that was important to me.”
Part of what has made Reese so successful this season is simply being on the court more. She is in better shape, she said, plus she has avoided fouling out after doing so four times as a sophomore. She has already played more minutes this season in four fewer games.
Reese’s play and personality have endeared her to the L.S.U. fans, who gave her the Bayou Barbie nickname for her glamorous appearance. It’s a fitting moniker for a player who says she has to have her nails done for every game. Reese swipes on lip gloss before taking the court and applies her eyelash extensions herself. With an eye to endorsement income, she is going through the process of trademarking the name. (She also has a YouTube channel and name, image and likeness deals with Coach and a local law firm.)
Reese draws inspiration from those fans and from the L.S.U. legends that came before. She has talked with Augustus and shown her an old photograph: an elementary-school-aged Reese standing next to Augustus after a W.N.B.A. game. Reese keeps that image in mind when she encounters those postgame throngs.
“That could be me for somebody else one day,” she said.