LAFAYETTE — As the University of Louisiana at Lafayette women’s basketball team stood two steps away from a second championship, one senior decided a repeat showing of some classic Cajuns episodes were in order.
Guard Kia Wilridge made 10-of-16 shots as part of a career-high 22-point effort to help lift the Cajuns to a 69-49 win over Youngstown State in a semifinal of the Women’s Basketball Invitational on Wednesday night at the Cajundome.
“Finally I went back to my old ways, and I just kept telling myself to have fun,” Wilridge said. “I stopped thinking about how off my shot had been and I just let it fly.”
That plan became part of the Cajuns shooting 48 percent (30-of-62) in an offensive output that coach Garry Brodhead had been waiting for and was happy to see.
“We were coming off screens and handoffs, and Jodi Quinn got involved and hit some shots,” Brodhead said. “We were getting touches inside to Simone (Fields), too. I wish we could have played like this in the conference tournament.”
In addition to that scoring, the Cajuns limited the Penguins to six points in the third quarter, as they gradually turned a 38-33 halftime advantage into a 51-39 cushion. Nikki Arbanas nailed a 3-pointer to pull the Penguins within 38-36 before the Cajuns responded with a layup from Fields and a jumper by Wilridge to push the lead back to six at the 6:36 mark of the third quarter.
When Keke Veal converted two free throws at the 2:23 mark, that put the Cajuns up 49-39. Those points were part of Veal’s 19 points, eight rebounds and four steals in 32 minutes as she dealt with a sprained ankle and foot soreness from an injury incurred late in Saturday’s victory over Stetson.
“I did two little drills each day,” Veal said. “I don’t like sitting on the sideline in practice. I like playing for this team.”
The Cajuns made sure there would be another game by overcoming an early deficit. The Cajuns fell behind 13-8 during the first six minutes before a single trip down the court enabled them to pull even. Quinn made a jumper before the Penguins were called for a personal foul. On the ensuing inbound pass, Fields banked in a shot, got fouled and knocked down the free throw to tie the score.
The Cajuns used that as a launching pad to later go up by double figures on a few occasions in the first half. The biggest lead was 32-19 when Veal drained a 3-pointer with 6:49 left until halftime.
UL-Lafayette will go for a second straight WBI title at 4 p.m. Saturday at Earl K. Long Gym. The Cajuns will tangle with the winner of a late Wednesday night semifinal in Ogden, Utah, between Weber State and South Carolina Upstate.
“Only three teams in the country get to finish with a win,” Brodhead said. “It would be special to do it with kids that built this program.”