LAFAYETTE — As Garry Brodhead pondered the end of a game that gave his squad 20 victories and the first women’s basketball postseason tournament win in Louisiana-Lafayette history Thursday, he pointed toward a new beginning.
“I have been watching this program for a long time, said Brodhead, the Cajuns coach and a UL-Lafayette alumnus. “I felt like it would take some hard work. It’s big — 20 wins. This is the start.”
That beginning came courtesy of a 78-56 victory over Texas-Pan American in the first round of the Women’s Basketball Invitational at Earl K. Long Gym.
The win puts the Cajuns at 20-12 and sets up a second-round meeting in the WBI with in-state foe McNeese State. The contest will be at Earl K. Long at 7 p.m. Saturday. Brodhead was the associate head coach at McNeese from 2007-12.
Thursday’s triumph required a second-half turnaround that saw the Cajuns erase a two-point halftime deficit by making 71 percent of their shots in the final 20 minutes.
“Lafayette got really hot in the second half, and they were hard to stop,” UTPA coach Larry Tidwell said. “They were 18-of-21 from the free-throw line. We have to compliment them on stepping up. It’s hard to keep up with that (shooting).”
The Cajuns held a 52-50 lead with 8:36 remaining when Jaylyn Gordon banked a runner off the glass to kick-start an 18-2 run that would eventually push UL-Lafayette ahead 70-52 before Tonisha Walker snapped the streak with a pair of free throws at the 2:29 mark.
“We hadn’t played a game (at Earl K. Long) since we played Louisiana Tech (on Nov. 22).” said Cajuns guard Kia Wilridge, who finished with a game-high 18 points. “We just had to get that out of our system.”
Center Brittany Bush provided the Broncs a boost in the first half by putting up a double-double in the first 20 minutes. She registered 10 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks.
“Brittany Bush was really good to start out,” Brodhead said. “She rebounded and scored, and we didn’t put as much pressure on the ball (on the perimeter).”
The Broncs managed to build a 27-21 lead with just under two minutes remaining in the half when T’Ondria Nolen scored off the glass on a drive and added a free throw. Robbie Brown hit a pull-up jumper with 51 seconds showing before Wilridge converted a steal into a foul on the Broncs with a second left. Wilridge’s pair of free throws accounted for a 27-25 halftime tally.
Freshman Simone Fields, who had five points in the first half, finished with 14 points on a 5-for-5 effort from the field.
“People think passing into the post is easy, but it’s not that easy,” Brodhead said. “It’s something we have been working on with the guards. (Assistant coach) Deacon Jones is a main reason why we can score there. He has been stressing that will make us better as a team.”
Keke Veal had 12 points and was 6-for-6 from the line. Gordon chipped in 11 points. Bush had 12 points and 11 rebounds for the Broncs (19-15).