Associated Press

DALLAS (AP) – LSU’s Angel Reese waved her hand in front of her face, the way Caitlin Clark had done in celebration earlier in the NCAA tournament, then pointed toward her finger as if to say a ring was coming while walking toward the Iowa star.

The moment sparked debate on social media among those defending Reese’s right to engage in a type of mental gamesmanship and trash talk that is common in basketball, and those who found her conduct unsportsmanlike.

The bubbly junior from Baltimore, who transferred from Maryland to join flamboyant LSU coach Kim Mulkey, was unapologetic in the postgame news conference.

"All year, I was critiqued about who I was," Reese said. "I don’t fit in a box that y’all want me to be in. I’m too hood. I’m too ghetto. But when other people do it, y’all say nothing. So this was for the girls that look like me, that’s going to speak up on what they believe in. It’s unapologetically you."

Sunday’s national championship game was the most-viewed NCAA women’s basketball game on record, with 9.9 million viewers on ABC and ESPN2 according to fast national numbers by Nielsen.

The total audience is a 103% jump over last year, when South Carolina defeated UConn and averaged 4.85 million on ESPN and ESPN2. The audience on Sunday at one point peaked at 12.6 million.

Clark, the scoring sensation who was the first with consecutive 40-point games in an NCAA Tournament, made the face-waving gesture to no one in particular during an Elite Eight victory over Louisville.

The Associated Press Player of the Year wasn’t shy about showing her emotions when the Hawkeyes knocked off undefeated defending national champion South Carolina in the semifinals.

If she saw Reese’s gestures, Clark didn’t seem concerned about them.

"I was just trying to get to the handshake line and shake hands and be grateful that my team was in that position," said Clark, who scored 30 points. "That’s all you can do is hold your head high, be proud of what you did. All the credit in the world to LSU. They were tremendous."

In a 79-72 semifinal victory over Virginia Tech, Reese made what appeared to be a "you’re too small" gesture several times after scoring around the basket.

The fashionable 6-foot-3 post with modeling aspirations is becoming a social media magnet. Reese wooed Lil Wayne after chastising the rapper from New Orleans for reaching out to Elite Eight opponent Miami before doing the same with the Tigers.

"I’m going to be me, but I can’t do it without the girls here, and I can’t do it without the rest of my teammates and coaches," said Reese, who had 15 points and 10 rebounds while three teammates scored at least 20 points.

She was named the Most Outstanding Player at the Final Four after setting an NCAA single-season record with her 34th double-double against the Hawkeyes.

"Twitter can say what Twitter can say," Reese said. "I love reading those comments. I have all the screenshots of what everybody has said about me all season. What are you going to say now?"

Those in attendance included LSU president William F Tate IV, who commented on criticism Reese.

"A lot of people commenting never played sports," Tate asserted. "You create slights. You create people dissing you so that you can go out there and be motivated to come after them.” "And by the way, this is LSU," he continued. "This is swag country. This is what we do here."