LAFAYETTE — After two seniors were forced to sit down, the Ragin’ Cajuns rose up.
The Louisiana-Lafayette women’s basketball team needed 50 minutes, 10 players and a tightrope act to win their second straight postseason championship. The Cajuns hung on for an 87-85, double-overtime win over Weber State in the title game of the Women’s Basketball Invitational on Saturday at Earl K. Long Gym.
When Weber State had a chance to force a third overtime in the closing seconds, it failed to get a shot off and the Cajuns had license to leave their seats and sprint onto the court.
That crowd included senior guards Keke Veal and Kia Wilridge, who both had fouled out. Veal poured in 32 points, and Wilridge chipped in 17 points and 11 rebounds before they handed the torch to their teammates.
“That was great, and it worked out that way for a reason,” Wilridge said. “That is who is going to be here next year, when me and Keke are gone. They showed they could do it without us.”
The Cajuns held an 86-83 lead with 47 seconds remaining in the second overtime when Wilridge’s fifth foul ended her night. Deeshyra Thomas, who led Weber State with 25 points, made two free throws to pull the Wildcats within one.
Thomas followed that with a steal on the ensuing possession to give her team another chance. But with 11 seconds left, the Cajuns lineup, which included Sylvana Okde, Taylor Washington and Gabby Alexander, forced a turnover. Washington snagged a steal and made 1-of-2 free throws, setting the stage for the Wildcats’ last gasp.
“You never know when your number is going to be called,” Cajuns coach Garry Brodhead said. “It gave other kids a chance to excel. We got some important stops (on defense) in the overtimes. Simone (Fields) and Adrienne (Prejean) took some big charges. It wasn’t a score that won the game; it was stops.”
Before the extra periods, Veal was the main offensive catalyst who kept the Cajuns afloat during the fourth quarter. Veal had 14 of her points in the fourth, but Weber State had an answer at the buzzer: Brittney Dunbar, who later fouled out, scored on a scoop shot from several feet out to tie the score at 69 and force overtime.
“Keke is a big-time player who thrives under pressure,” Brodhead said. “She grew up a lot this year. I was concerned when she fouled out because she had made about five in a row.”
Wilridge took over the point guard duties for the majority of the first and second overtime.
“Keke held us together as long as she could, and then other people had to step up,” Wilridge said. “I knew if Keke went out, it would be me with the ball.”
Weber State gradually built an eight-point advantage midway through the second quarter thanks to the efficiency of Thomas, who made 5-of-6 field goals in the first half. Thomas scored on a layup and Emily Drake followed with a free throw to put the Wildcats on top 26-18 with 4:39 left in the first half.
But the Cajuns bounced back by limiting Weber State to five points the rest of the half. Veal made four free throws in the final minutes, and Brooklyn Arceneaux added a pair of layups to push the teams into a 31-31 tie at halftime.
Neither team went away for the next 30 minutes. Neither did the fans, who got to see some free basketball as the Cajuns (25-10) equaled the school record for wins in a season.
“(Weber State) gave us everything we could handle,” Brodhead said.
As Cajuns players and coaches cut down the net and greeted their families, Brodhead thought about the recipe for the championship.
“Those kids want to win,” he said. “As coaches, we try to put them in a position to be successful. They know how to compete. It was a great basketball game.”