Troy's women's basketball team was bigger than everybody else's in the Sun Belt Conference tournament, and they acted like it.
Pounding yet another opponent, rebounding-wise, the third-seeded Trojans defeated No. 5 Louisiana-Lafayette 78-64 Sunday to win the championship at UNO's Lakefront Arena.
“I feel like we wore (Louisiana-Lafayette) down, but their hearts wouldn't let them stop,” said Troy coach Chanda Rigby, a former Loranger High School coach. “We identified what we needed to do last year, and rebounding was it.”
The Trojans (22-10) outrebounded the Ragin' Cajuns (20-11) 58-33, including 19-10 on the offensive end to win the tournament and earn an NCAA tournament berth for the second consecutive year. Tournament MVP Caitlyn Ramirez, who grabbed 25 rebounds in Thursday's game against Arkansas State, had a game-high 13 against ULL.
“We worried more about the block (on post-ups) than actually getting rebounds, and we weren't boxing out at the guard positions or the post positons,” said Cajuns forward Simone Fields, who had 10 points and six rebounds, and along with guard Troi Swain, made the all-tournament team. “I feel like I couldn't do what I normally do because they kept calling fouls.”
The Cajuns were trying to get their first NCAA berth since 2007 and only their second since the NCAA women's tournament began. However, they shot just 30.2 percent (19-of-62), including 2-of-11 on 3-pointers.
Troy, which entered the fourth quarter 3-of-17 on 3-pointers, sank three in the first 3 minutes, 31 seconds to take a 62-55 lead. Louisiana-Lafayette got within 70-64 on a 3-pointer by Swain.
“That wasn't by design,” said Trojans guard Claresa Banks. “We pretty much have the green light. Our goal is to shoot 100 shots.”
The Ragin' Cajuns trailed 53-49 at the end of the third quarter, but that was after battling back from a 49-40 deficit in the last four minutes. However, Fields picked up her fourth foul defending on the baseline at the 1:35 mark.
Louisiana-Lafayette trailed 36-30 at halftime after shooting just 24.2 percent (8-of-33) and being outrebounded 28-18. The Ragin' Cajuns missed six layups, including on fast breaks, a malady that plagued them since the start of the tournament.
“Seeing the ball rim out, you kind of get discouraged some times,” Swain said. “So, I guess we didn't come back like we usually do.”
More important, Louisiana-Lafayette started getting in foul trouble, although they avoided further damage. Starting forward Nekia Jones, a key rebounder who helps get the offense going with drives to the basket and deft passes, was saddled with three fouls.
Not able to get a flow, she shot 0-of-7 for the game. Fields, ULL's top post player, had two fouls and played just six minutes. And, guard Jasmine Thomas, effective on drives the whole tournament, also had two, as well as starting forward Gabby Alexander.