MINNEAPOLIS — Kim Mulkey knew she had a rebuilding project when she took over as LSU coach this season.
The longtime Baylor coach was quickly able to orchestrate an incredible turnaround for the Tigers, who won 26 games — 17 more than last season.
Mulkey was honored Thursday as The Associated Press women’s basketball Coach of the Year, the third time she has won the award. Geno Auriemma and Muffet McGraw are the only other coaches to have accomplished the feat.
“I’m certainly honored to be in that group,” Mulkey said. “This doesn’t happen without players who allow you to coach them and buy into a system. We had a really, really good year.”
Mulkey received 10 votes from the 30-member national media panel that votes on the AP Top 25 each week. South Carolina’s Dawn Staley was second with eight votes. Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer received three and Nicki Collen, who replaced Mulkey at Baylor, got two along with Wes Moore of NC State. Five coaches got one vote apiece.
The veteran coach shared the stage with AP Player of the Year Aliyah Boston, who she coached against this year.
Mulkey, who was surprised by her team last week when they told her she won, thanked her coaches and individually named each of her players in the ceremony. She choked up when talking about her family, who were still in Texas.
LSU rose to No. 6 in the AP poll and hosted the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament. The Tigers lost to Ohio State in the second round and finished with more than 25 wins for the first time since 2007-08.
Mulkey compared this season to her first at Baylor when she inherited a team that won seven games the year before she took over.
“You make goals that are realistic such as having a winning season,” she said. “Beat your first ranked team, we’re going to celebrate that. In conference if we finish in the top half of SEC, we can then potentially get to the NCAA tournament. It sounds so simple, but you have to crawl before you can walk and have to walk before you can run. We were just realistic.”
The Tigers went 13-3 in the SEC and had wins over Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky. Mulkey’s squad also played South Carolina tough, falling by six points.
Mulkey grew up in Louisiana and won national titles with Louisiana Tech as a player and assistant coach before a 21-year run at Baylor in which she won three national titles and became the fastest coach in women’s college basketball history to 600 victories, doing so in 700 games. In 2020, she was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
She also won AP Coach of the Year in 2012 and 2019 while at Baylor.
“I can’t name all the things that the team did this year, but it was unbelievable,” she said. “We weren’t supposed to do what we did in a year. That’s hard to do.”