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Players, coaches dismiss criticism of trash talking, say it's part of the game

FILE -LSU's Angel Reese reacts in front of Iowa's Caitlin Clark during the second half of the NCAA Women's Final Four championship basketball game April 2, 2023, in Dallas. Iowa and LSU are getting ready to meet again in a rematch of the 2023 national championship game on Monday, April 1, 2024. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez, File)

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — It was the signature moment of last year's national championship game.

With victory assured, LSU's Angel Reese pointed to her ring finger and flashed the “you can't see me” gesture (waving her hand in front of her own face) at Iowa's Caitlin Clark, who had made a similar gesture earlier in the tournament.

The move sparked a discussion over trash talk in the women's game, which is being renewed as the two stars prepare to face off again Monday in the Albany 2 regional final.

“I don’t think people realize it’s not personal,” Reese said. “ Once we get out from between those lines, if I see you walking down the street, it’s like, ‘Hey, girl, what’s up? let’s hang out.’ I think people just take it like we hate each other. Me and Caitlin Clark don’t hate each other. I want everybody to understand that. It’s just a super competitive game."

Clark agrees that the trash talk is just part of the game. When she does it, she said, it’s to fire up herself and her teammates, not to put down any opponent or get inside their heads.

“Both of us want to win more than anything, and that’s how it should be when you’re a competitor and you get into a situation like this, whether it was the National Championship, whether it’s the Elite Eight,” she said.

But Reese’s coach Kim Mulkey questions whether the reaction to the players jawing and gesturing goes beyond a simple misunderstanding of competitive fire and into sexism, noting how no one seems concerned with trash talk in the men’s game.

“I don’t choose to focus on that because you see it all the time if you turn on and watch pro games,” she said. “I was a trash talker. I mean, thank God I didn’t have all of y’all following me, cameras and everything else. You’re out there, you’re trying to get after it.”

LSU’s guard Hailey Van Lith said she doesn't expect people outside the game to understand that, especially those who have never played at this level.

Besides, she said, trash talk is entertaining.

“It’s a part of why people want to watch the game,” she said. “I think, when you think about hockey and the fights, people like to see that. That’s not why we do it. It’s our personalities. It’s what makes the game fun for us.”

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AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-womens-bracket/ and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness