ALBANY, N.Y. — Iowa and LSU would rather not be playing each other on Monday night.

It’s not that they don’t relish the challenge of a rematch of last year’s national championship game, but both teams wish the stage was just a little bit bigger.

“We talk about growing the game,” LSU coach Kim Mulkey said. “Didn’t that national championship game have the highest ratings ever in women’s basketball? You’re probably going to anticipate this one will, too, but it needs to be at the Final Four.”

The storylines are plentiful. It’s not just a rematch, it’s last year’s champion against a No. 1 seed. And it’s two of the game’s biggest and most competitive stars in Angel Reese and Caitlin Clark going head-to-head — again.

“You’ve got two very talented players that have brought a lot of attention to our sport,” Mulkey said. “They both trash talk. They both make their teammates better. They both have their teammates’ back. They have both elevated our game to where we have people watching that never watched women’s basketball before.”

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But these are, of course, different teams from those that played last April in the Tigers’ 102-85 win.

LSU no longer has its three top scorers from that game. Forward LaDazhia Williams (20 points) and guards Jasmine Carson (22) and Alexis Morris (21).

In their place are forward Aneesah Morrow (16.5 pointer per game), a transfer from DePaul and guards Mikaylah Williams (14.4), a freshman and Louisville transfer Hailey Van Lith (11.7).

“I just think they shoot the 3-ball; they rebound so well,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “You’ve got five people averaging in double figures. That’s really hard to guard when you have that kind of balance.”

And Iowa is more than just Clark, who had 15 assists addition to her 29 points in the Hawkeyes’ blowout win over Colorado in the Sweet 16.

Gabbie Marshall and Kate Martin, who each had 14 points against the Buffaloes have stepped into bigger roles this year. And 6-foot-2 Hannah Stuelke has replaced Monika Czinano as the team’s second-leading scorer.

“I really like Hannah’s game,” Reese said. “She’s a strong post player. She’s more versatile than Czinano, so I know I’m going to have to guard her much higher than I had to guard Czinano last year.”

Clark said she’s learned some lessons from the loss a year ago and plans to be more aggressive this time around.

“I think I took 19 threes and 22 shots total versus LSU the last time we played them,” she said. “So not settling and falling in love with my 3-point shot, being able to get into the paint, drive into the paint, I think that allows my teammates to get open.”

Defensive challenge

Morris had the unenviable assignment of guarding Clark last year, but Morris now plays for the Harlem Globetrotters. That leaves sophomore Flau’jae Johnson to take the job this time around, albeit with a lot of help from her teammates.

“I want to compete at the highest level, and right now Caitlin is the highest level,” she said. “So if I can defend her, try to contain her and get the win, we’ll be fine.”

Stepping up

Iowa is again expected to be without starter Molly Davis, who suffered a knee injury on March 3 against Ohio State.

Sydney Affolter, a junior, has moved into the starting lineup in her place and is averaging better than seven points and six rebounds for the Hawkeyes. She had 15 points in the Sweet 16.

“It really was effortless for her to move in there,” Bluder said. “She’s always been confident. She’s always been just this tough like chip-on-my-shoulder I’m going to prove you wrong type of kid. So it has been very easy. Now, would I love to have Molly Davis back? Certainly I would love to have Molly Davis back. But I am so happy that Syd is showing everybody what she’s capable of.”

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