Shannon Sharpe Kim Mulkey LSU First Take Screen grab: ESPN ‘First Take’

Kim Mulkey has long established herself as a lightning rod in women’s college basketball. And that was especially evident in her reaction to the on-court altercation that occurred between LSU and South Carolina in the SEC Championship Game on Sunday.

During a postgame interview with ESPN, South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley expressed remorse for the circumstances surrounding her team’s victory.

“I just want to apologize to the basketball community,” Staley said. “When you’re playing in championship games like this, in our league, things get heated. No bad intentions. Their emotions got so far ahead of them that sometimes these things happen. So I want to apologize for us playing a part in that. That’s not who we are and that’s not what we’re about.”

In her own postgame press conference, Mulkey took on a more defiant — and arguably adversarial — tone.

“It’s ugly. It’s not good. No one wants to be a part of that. No one wants to see that ugliness,” the LSU head coach. “But I can tell you this: I wish she would’ve pushed Angel Reese. Don’t push a kid — you’re 6’8. Don’t push somebody that little. That’s uncalled for, in my opinion. Let those two girls who were jawing, let them go at it.”

During Monday’s episode of First Take, Sharpe and Stephen A. Smith discussed the on-court fight between the Tigers and Gamecocks. And the Hall of Fame tight end called attention to the vast differences in the reactions of the two head coaches.

“Really? Is that what you want? You want to see a fight? You want the women’s game to be marred by a fight? Really?” Sharpe said of Mulkey’s comments. “Come on, Kim Mulkey. You’ve got to be better. And we’ve got to start doing a better job of holding Kim Mulkey accountable and responsible for some of her comments. We let that stuff fly because she’s a national champion. I refuse to do that. I believe she was wrong in this instance. And Dawn Staley showed the utmost class and respect, not only for the game itself but for her team and the opposing team. I wish Kim Mulkey would have shown that level of respect.”

After Smith offered the rare agreement on First Take, Sharpe added: “If a man had said that, we would hold him accountable. Kim Mulkey has gone a long time and escaped criticism for a lot of things that she’s said… she says and does a lot of things that rub me the wrong way. And I’m not going to apologize for being as harsh and as stern as I am because of what she had to say yesterday.”

In Mulkey’s defense, she did condemn the kerfuffle. Her comments regarding Reese appeared to be more a matter of her taking issue with the 6-foot-7 Kamilla Cardoso shoveling the 5-foot-10 Flau’jae Johnson than an actual request for another on-court altercation.

Conversely, Mulkey has often embraced conflict — even earlier in the game, she gave a tense sideline interview — and it would be understandable for critics like Sharpe to not give her the benefit of the doubt. After all, the four-time national champion head coach has made no shortage of controversial comments throughout her career.

To Sharpe’s point, such statements have largely gone unnoticed. But with the spotlight on women’s college basketball getting increasingly brighter, that already appears to be changing.

[First Take]

About Ben Axelrod

Ben Axelrod is a veteran of the sports media landscape, having most recently worked for NBC's Cleveland affiliate, WKYC. Prior to his time in Cleveland, he covered Ohio State football and the Big Ten for outlets including Cox Media Group, Bleacher Report, Scout and Rivals.