(CNN) — LSU star Angel Reese defended the gesture she aimed at Iowa Hawkeyes’ Caitlin Clark near the end of the Tigers’ first NCAA women’s basketball national championship victory on Sunday, saying “I don’t take disrespect lightly.”
Reese could be seen approaching Clark before moving her open hand in front of her face — popularized by WWE star John Cena to mean “you can’t see me” — before pointing to her ring finger in a gesture some interpreted as a reference to the place her newly-acquired championship ring might sit.
Clark made a similar gesture to another player earlier in the tournament.
The gesture has sparked much debate, especially on social media. Some have criticized Reese, while others have defended her actions, highlighting how there was no public outrage in response to Clark’s gesture earlier in the tournament.
Sports journalist Jose de Jesus Ortiz called Reese’s actions “classless,” while former ESPN host Keith Olbermann called Reese an “idiot” for the gesture.
In the press conference after the victory, Reese referenced the difference in reaction she received as a result of her gesture as compared to the one Clark received.
“All year, I was critiqued for who I was. I don’t fit the narrative,” Reese said. “I don’t fit the box that y’all want me to be in. I’m too hood. I’m too ghetto. Y’all told me that all year. But when other people do it, and y’all don’t say nothing.
“So this is for the girls that look like me. For those that want to speak up for what they believe in. It’s unapologetically you. And that’s what I did it for tonight. It was bigger than me tonight. And Twitter is going to go into a rage every time.
“And I’m happy. I feel like I’ve helped grow women’s basketball this year. (…) I’m looking forward to celebrating and then next season.”
Reese had 15 points and 10 rebounds in the 102-85 victory and won the women’s March Madness’ Most Outstanding Player award.
In the post-game broadcast, Reese referenced the similar gesture Clark made to a Louisville opponent in the Elite Eight.
In the same game, Clark said to an opponent: “You’re down by 15 points. Shut up,” according to the Bleacher Report.
“Caitlin Clark is a hell of a player but I don’t take disrespect lightly,” Reese said. “She disrespected [LSU’s] Alexis [Morris] (…) and I wanted to pick her pocket. But I had a moment at the end of her game. I was in my bag, I was in my moment.”
After the Championship game, Clark herself said she didn’t notice anything at the time.
“I was just trying to get to the handshake line and shake hands and be grateful that my team was in that position,” Clark said in the post-game press conference. “All the credit in the world to LSU. They were tremendous. They deserve it. They had a tremendous season.
“(LSU head coach) Kim Mulkey coached them so, so well. She’s one of the best basketball coaches of all time, and it shows. She only said really kind things to me in the handshake line, so I’m very grateful of that too.
“But honestly I have no idea. I was just trying to spend the last few moments on the court with especially the five people that I’ve started 93 games with and relishing every second of that.”
LSU head coach Mulkey said she had “no clue” about what transpired.
Among those defending Reese on social media were ESPN’s Holly Rowe and former NBA star Etan Thomas.
“People hating on Angel Reese or Caitlin Clark. Stop. Unapologetically confident young women should be celebrated NOT hated. Get used to it,” Rowe wrote on Twitter.
Former Washington Wizards, Oklahoma City Thunder and Atlanta Hawks player Thomas wrote: “Hold on now!!!! It was cute when Caitlin Clark did it. Y’all didn’t have any issues with it at all. So don’t be all outraged and talking about class and sportsmanship when Angel Reese does the same thing. We’re not doing double standards here.”
Reese said the negative reaction on social media throughout the season has helped fuel her excellent season, having finished averaging 23.0 points and 15.4 rebounds in her first season with LSU after transferring from Maryland.
“Twitter can say what they want to say,” she 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?”