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Reese's mysterious absence brings unwanted scrutiny to No. 7 LSU and coach Kim Mulkey

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BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — With LSU star forward Angel Reese missing in action and little explanation forthcoming from coach Kim Mulkey, the seventh-ranked Tigers are attracting unwanted scrutiny at the outset of their national title defense.

Recent drama involving not just Reese's absence, but critical comments by some players' parents on social media, began not long after a surprising season-opening loss for what on paper looks like the quintessential super team in this new era of relaxed rules governing transfers and player endorsement earnings.

On Monday, there was no indication that Reese would be back with the team for a home game against Texas Southern.

LSU women's basketball program spokesman Grant Kauvar said he couldn't predict how soon Reese might return, adding that people would just have to “come to the game and see.” That echoed Mulkey's comments before last Friday's game at Southeastern Louisiana, which Reese missed.

Mulkey's reticence regarding Reese — one of the most popular and commercially successful athletes in all of women's college sports — has presented a public relations challenge for LSU and opened perhaps more room for speculation than LSU might have liked. Yet, from what little Mulkey has divulged — calling Reese's second-half benching against Kent State last Tuesday a “coach's decision” — it would not appear to be a compliance issue.

During a back-and-forth on the social media website Instagram, the mother of sophomore guard Flau'Jae Johnson, Kia Brooks, made a comment about Reese's academic performance.

Reese's mother, Angel Webb Reese, had criticized Brooks' grammar in an earlier post, to which Brooks responded, “You definitely know about grammar errors when your daughter got a 2.0-or-less grade point average. ... Stop being petty, fake and hateful, and take responsibility for you and your daughter’s actions.”

Brooks' specific refence to Reese's grade-point average has not been corroborated. Universities do not release transcripts without permission from the student in question and Mulkey has declined to comment on the parents' posts.

It would be highly unusual for a player to begin missing games because of academic eligibility after the basketball season started but before the end of the first semester of an academic year.

Additionally, players banned from participating in games for academic reasons still are permitted to take part in other team activities and even sit on the bench with teammates out of uniform during games.

Reese, who has nearly 378,000 followers on the social media site X (formerly Twitter), has been relatively quiet on the platform, other than one post over the weekend which states, “Please don't believe everything you read.”

When Reese was absent for Friday night's 73-50 victory at Southeastern, Mulkey said, “Angel is part of this basketball team, and we hope to see her sooner than later."

Mulkey offered no further explanation and didn’t take any additional questions about Reese. No LSU players were made available for postgame interviews.

Reese's agent, Jeanine Ogbonnaya, also did not immediately return a message left by The Associated Press.

Coming off of a national title in just Mulkey' second season, and with Reese being joined by high-profile transfers Hailey Van Lith and Aneesah Morrow, along with coveted five-star recruit Mikaylah Williams, LSU is arguably the first women's basketball super team since the NCAA relaxed rules on transferring and allowed players to retain amateur status while earning money from their name, image and likeness.

LSU entered the season ranked No. 1. But a loss to then-No. 20 Colorado — which has since shot up to No. 5 — dropped LSU out of the top five — for now.

LSU hasn't lost since, but it hasn't played another major conference team, either, and won't until meeting Virginia this Saturday in the Cayman Islands Classic.

Reese started LSU’s first four games, averaging 17 points and 10.3 rebounds as the Tigers went 3-1.

Nicknamed the “Bayou Barbie," Reese led LSU to its first national title in women’s basketball last season. She also has parlayed her popularity into name, image, and likeness endorsements valued at more than $1 million, making her one of the top-earning female college athletes.

Reese led the Southeastern Conference in both scoring (23 points per game) and rebounding (15.4 per game) last season, becoming just the fourth player to lead the league in both categories.

Her 34 double-doubles that season set an NCAA record and her 23 consecutive double-doubles to begin last season broke Sylvia Fowles’ previous LSU record of 19.

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AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball