There’s a precedent the New Iberia girls basketball team would like to exceed.
Since the LHSAA began seeding its state playoff brackets seven years ago No. 9 Mount Carmel of New Orleans became the lowest-seeded team a year ago to win the Class 5A state championship.
With New Iberia making its second semifinal appearance and first in 34 years, the No. 11 Yellow Jackets (19-13) would like to take that a step further in Thursday’s Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Girls Top 28 tournament against No. 2 Walker (30-5).
Tip-off is scheduled for 8 p.m. at Burton Coliseum in Lake Charles.
“Every coach wants to make that stride where you’re playing your best basketball after the Christmas break,” New Iberia coach Robert Pinckney said. “The last four or five weeks I think we’ve played our best basketball. There were a couple of hiccups in there where we didn’t shoot the ball well.
“They’ve put it all the together; they’re playing as a team. The one thing I like about this team is they’re unselfish. They just want to win and be around each other.”
New Iberia’s run to the state semifinals has included upset wins over No. 6 Sulphur and most recently No. 3 West Monroe, extending its win streak to eight games.
Louisiana Tech signee Kierra Anthony was the focal point of the Yellow Jackets’ most recent accomplishment, pouring in a season-high 34 points in Saturday’s 54-45 home victory over West Monroe.
Anthony, a senior guard, leads the team in scoring with a 20-point average with fellow senior Urionne Jolivette adding 10 a game.
“Kierra Anthony is a quick, highly skilled player,” Walker coach Korey Arnold said. “She’s uses that quickness and she can create off the dribble, which makes her even more dangerous. When you put her together with the other players they have, you’ve got plenty to contend with.”
Because of her quarterfinal explosion, Pinckney is convinced Walker will devise a plan to try to slow down Anthony that starts with taking the ball out of her hands.
One of the primary ways the Wildcats can achieve that goal is by utilizing their signature full-court and half-court pressure, possibly forcing sophomore guard Taylor Jacob into more of a ball-handling role.
“We told the girls that Korey’s too good of a coach to allow Kierra to go for 34 points again, so somebody else has to make plays and step up and take care of the basketball,” Pinckney said. “Part of running their press is to try and get the ball out of Kierra’s hands and into somebody else’s hands and then not let her get it back.”
Pinckney said NISH has capable scoring options in senior forward Renesha Alfred and sophomore guard/forward Morgan Carrier.
“Taylor will have to handle the ball a little more,” Pinckney said. “Uri Jolivette has to be big for us. Renesha and Morgan Carrier have to be big for us.”
Walker, the District 4-5A champion, is riding a five-game win streak and has won 12 of its past 13 games.
Senior center Jamie Gibson is one of four double-digit scorers with a 20.8 average followed by point guard Kacie Fountain (13.6) and Southeastern Louisiana signee Bayley Stears (13.0).
“We feel like we can play with them defensive wise, but offensively we’ve got to take care of possessions,” Pinckney said. “We don’t want to give them easy layups off turnovers. We want to make it a half-court game where they have to run offense against us.”
In preparation for Thursday’s big stage New Iberia moved its practices this week to Louisiana-Lafayette’s Earl K. Long Gym and the spacious Cajundome to adjust to a natural hardwood court and depth perception behind the baskets.
“Obviously the girls are excited about everything, but they’re not so excited where they’re not paying attention to details,” Pinckney said. “This is a business trip. It’s not all about fun and games. We’re there for a purpose, and the girls have bought into that.”