LAFAYETTE — A big obstacle became a bigger opportunity for the University of Louisiana at Lafayette women’s basketball team on Thursday night.
Facing a 19-point, first-half hole against Oral Roberts University, the Lady Cajuns rebounded for a 65-64 victory at Earl K. Long Gym that sends them to the Sunday championship game of the Women’s Basketball Invitational.
The climb back took most of the second half. Freshman forward Simone Fields gathered in a pass from Keke Veal in the paint with 18 seconds left and converted a layup to create a 64-64 deadlock. Oral Roberts guard Atoe’ Jackson fouled Fields on the play and the ensuing free throw put the Cajuns ahead for good. When Oral Roberts later tried to respond off an inbound play with 2.3 seconds left, a loose ball ended up in the hands of Jaylyn Gordon, who was able to run out the clock.
“I didn’t feel as bad being down by 12 (at halftime),” Lady Cajuns coach Garry Brodhead said. “It was not as big as it seemed, especially after they shot over 50 percent in the first half.”
Oral Roberts made 13-of-23 from the field in the opening half. That included a 6-for-8 effort from 3-point range. Jackson gave her team’s offense a boost early by making three 3-pointers in the game’s first few minutes. The Golden Eagles doubled up the Lady Cajuns eight minutes in by grabbing an 18-9 advantage. When Brodhead received a technical foul at the 8:31 mark, a free throw by Jordan Doyle put Oral Roberts on top 24-11.
“When I got (the technical), I wanted to go play,” Brodhead said. “Are we going to give them the game? The biggest turn was when the players saw some good things happen and they saw results from that.”
Before they saw results, the deficit grew to 34-15 with 3:35 left in the first half thanks to a Faith Ihim layup. “We were down a good bit, but we just don’t pay attention to that (exact score),” Veal said.
UL-Lafayette closed to within 10 a minute into the second half, when Kia Wilridge made a layup to make the score 35-25. The margin was still 10 midway through the second half. The Lady Cajuns picked up their defensive pressure and left Fields mostly in charge of dealing with 6-foot-7 ORU center Vicky McIntyre, the nation’s leading rebounder and a 15-point per game scorer. “We decided to pick them up at halfcourt and put Simone on an island,” Brodhead said. “Those steals we got were either layups or fouls.”
The Cajuns were plus-16 in turnover margin (24-8). That effort included 16 steals. Veal finished with 23 points to lead all players. Gordon had 15 points, 11 of which came in the second half after she had been slowed by three first-half fouls. “Sitting down didn’t bother me,” Gordon said. “I had to cheer and I was able to see some things that were going on (strategy-wise) from the bench.”
Ihim paced the Golden Eagle attack by pouring in 22 points. Jackson chipped in 13 and McIntyre had 7 points and 14 rebounds.
The Lady Cajuns (22-12) will host the WBI title game at 4 p.m. Sunday, when they face the Siena Saints, who are a 22-12 representative of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference from Loudonville, New York.