Now that Flau’jae Johnson has found her rhythm, LSU is ready for the rematch at Iowa in the Elite Eight

By | March 31, 2024

ALBANY, NY – Flau’jae Johnson has a plan. From spin moves to rap lyrics and NIL deals: Johnson knows what she’s doing. More importantly, she knows why she’s doing it.

She came to LSU with the intention of becoming a musician and basketball player. Other coaches wouldn’t allow it, so she chose one who would. She signed an NIL deal with Experian with the intention of educating basketball players about financial literacy. And she stepped onto the court Saturday with the intention of beating UCLA and earning a spot in the Elite Eight.

Intention became reality.

With 6:51 left in the first half, Johnson drove the baseline, spinning at such a speed that it was both out of control and seemingly perfectly balanced at the same time. She stopped on a dime for an effortless two points. Then Johnson bows. She looks at the fans and raises her arms. They stand up and cheer, and her team perks up. LSU feeds off the crowd’s energy, and Johnson knows it.

“Her energy is contagious,” Hailey Van Lith said after a 78-69 win. “She has a unique way of getting you hyped and excited.”

Intentionality is not unique to Johnson. The crowd sometimes misses it, behind layers of sequins and trash talk, but it has been the driving force for LSU this season.

LSU's Flau'jae Johnson reacts with teammates Angel Reese and Hailey Van Lith during their win over UCLA on Saturday.  (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

LSU’s Flau’jae Johnson (4) reacts with teammates Angel Reese (10) and Hailey Van Lith during their win over UCLA on Saturday. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Everyone has their own individual reasons and a collective goal.

It starts with head coach Kim Mulkey and her brash personality. When news of an impending Washington Post article leaked earlier in the tournament, Mulkey tried to get ahead of it. She read a statement and threatened to sue. She then refused to answer questions. The object of her outrage? To keep the article away from her players and out of their minds.

“It was never a distraction,” Mikaylah Williams said. “Coach Mulkey never made anything of it. What happened to her happened next door. For us it was always about basketball.

“We keep the most important thing, and that is basketball.”

The drama surrounding LSU seems endless. Early in the year, it was the parents who were chirping about the grades. Then it was the suspension of Angel Reese and the removal of Kateri Poole from the team. Now the Washington Post story. Somehow, the Tigers navigate everything that’s thrown at them, both on and off the field.

“It’s always something with us,” Hailey Van Lith said. “This year we’re just fighting. And even in that game, UCLA played well. They fled and we kept fighting back. And ultimately that is the strength it takes to keep playing.”

Flau'jae Johnson of the LSU Tigers celebrates after beating the UCLA Bruins.  (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)Flau'jae Johnson of the LSU Tigers celebrates after beating the UCLA Bruins.  (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Flau’jae Johnson of the LSU Tigers celebrates after beating the UCLA Bruins. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Van Lith had her own motivation for coming to LSU. From the outside, her situation in Louisville seemed perfect, and when Van Lith transferred, criticism and confusion over her decision followed. It continued as her grades took a hit. As a junior at Louisville, Van Lith averaged 19.7 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game. Now she is averaging 11.8 points, 2.5 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game.

At Louisville, she proved herself as a scorer and winner, taking her team to the Final Four as a freshman. Coming to LSU was about pushing her outside her comfort zone.

“I just wanted to get better in any way possible so that a challenge would present itself,” she said. “How dynamic this team is, with the personality combinations and being in Louisiana, it’s all things I hadn’t been exposed to before. I knew it would be a growing experience for me.”

Every day was something new for Van Lith, and she embraced everything that was thrown at her.

“I’ve really challenged myself to learn every lesson I can here and not lock myself in and get through it.”

Van Lith chose to be uncomfortable so that she can feel comfortable when she needs to. Like at the end of the win over UCLA, when she went to the line and hit four key free throws to get the game going.

The senior was able to clear her mind, relying on the muscle memory of making countless shots long before she arrived at LSU.

“One thing I always have control over is what I give to the game and how I choose to approach things,” she said.

Aneesah Morrow had her own box to get out of. The Chicago native chose her university during the COVID-19 pandemic and did not visit. However, it wouldn’t have mattered much where she went because Morrow wasn’t ready to leave the house yet. So she chose DePaul. But after two years of dominating and missing the NCAA tournament, Morrow knew she couldn’t stay in Chicago forever.

“I’m a homebody,” she said. “It was difficult to get here. I cried sometimes. There were days when I felt homesick, days when I wanted a home-cooked meal.”

Morrow missed her mother’s lasagna and missed seeing her family in the crowd. Louisiana is different from Chicago, and Morrow missed her city, too. But it was in these moments that she remembered why she had switched. It all had a purpose.

“I wanted a place where I could express myself but also develop my game,” she said. “And I wanted a place where my goals aligned with their goals.”

Her goal is the same as the rest of the Tigers. The unifying purpose that ties their respective intentions together.

“To win a national championship,” she laughs. “Evidently.”

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