When Michelle Obama said, “When they go low, we go high,” she wasn’t talking about Kim Mulkey. Class and decorum have never been her thing. On Sunday, No. 1 South Carolina remained undefeated and won its eighth SEC tournament title after defeating LSU, 79-72. It was a rematch of their January showdown in Baton Rouge, in which South Carolina pulled out a tough road win in enemy territory, 76-70.

They’re the two best teams in the SEC. They’re the last two teams to win national championships. They don’t like each other. And their coaches are polar opposites. So when a fight took place in the game on Sunday, we already knew the responses from the women who lead these programs were destined to be dissimilar.

“I just want to apologize to the basketball community,” Staley said to ESPN during the post-game interview. “I want to apologize for us playing a part in that, that’s not who we are. That’s not what we’re about.”

Moments after a fight that featured a male fan hopping over a railing and the scorer’s table to potentially get involved, which led to multiple ejections and only 11 combined players from both teams being eligible to participate in the final minutes, Staley handled the situation like a pro. She took full responsibility for her team’s actions, added context and nuance, did her best to protect women’s college basketball, and apologized to all who were involved on the other side, as well as informing us that apologies were made to her from the LSU side.

“We will get better (at) handling situations like this. So, I want to apologize for our South Carolina women’s basketball team,” Staley said on the microphone to the crowd during the trophy presentation. “LSU is a great team. They are our defending national champions. And I won’t be surprised if we’re able, both of us, to represent in Cleveland for the national championship game. I welcome that.”

Unsurprisingly, and as expected, it was a different story with Mulkey.

“It’s ugly, it’s not good, no one wants to be a part of that,” she said after the game. “But I’ll tell you this, I wish [Cardoso] would’ve pushed Angel Reese. If you’re 6-8, don’t push somebody that little. That was uncalled for in my opinion. Let those two girls who were jawing, let them go at it.”

Instead of calming things down, a white woman poured gasoline on a situation that involved a fight between Black women. Mulkey’s privilege somehow found a way to shine brighter than one of those tacky outfits she wears on the sidelines. She was so bad on Sunday that she spent time in the postgame press conference informing us that she didn’t know the rules, as she was wondering about potential punishments for the coaches.

“But my question is: I don’t really know the rules, why weren’t the coaches tossed if they left the bench? Wouldn’t that be a hell of an ending. But I guess it’s just the players that leave the bench area. I don’t know.”

 

If you know anything about Mulkey or women’s college basketball, you’re aware she has a history of saying dumb things out loud. And they aren’t just mistakes in the moment, this is just who she is. From not supporting Brittney Griner and allegedly telling her players not to be open publicly about their sexuality, there’s a huge pile of receipts when it comes to Mulkey. This is the same woman who defended Baylor, wanted the NCAA to do away with COVID-19 testing, and all but pleaded to be invited to the White House to see a president who had made it clear that he wasn’t fond of inviting women’s championships teams to the Oval Office.

Who did what to who on Sunday isn’t nearly as important as who said what, and how they said it after the game. When college kids fight, we look to the adults to be the leaders in the room. Dawn Staley presented herself as an elder stateswoman of the sport. Kim Mulkey behaved like a clown. Buckle up, the NCAA Tournament is going to be wildly entertaining. Happy Women’s History Month!

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