LAFAYETTE — The reasons the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns have a chance at a second straight postseason championship roll off women’s basketball coach Garry Brodhead’s tongue in rhythm.
His mental highlight reel does not include a bunch of slick passes or individual poses after 3-pointers. The grittier moments that sometimes go under the radar are the ones that have the Cajuns (24-10) set to face Weber State (23-11) in the Women’s Basketball Invitational championship game at 4 p.m. Saturday in Earl K. Long Gym.
“Adrienne Prejean does a lot,” Brodhead said. “She does whatever it takes for us to win. She makes defensive stops, gets rebounds and she has been a big contributor.”
Senior guard Keke Veal is the Cajuns’ leading scorer at 17.3 points per game. She has steadily moved up the school’s career scoring chart this season, but those numbers are not part of Brodhead’s equation.
“Keke is a tough kid,” Brodhead said. “She is a warrior. I have seen her have bad sprains, but she has a high tolerance for pain and she wants to win the game.”
The next game comes against an opponent from the Big Sky Conference that is coming off a 79-53 home win over South Carolina Upstate in the semifinals. The Wildcats also have walked out of hostile territory on top.
A trip to North Dakota a week ago netted a 76-74 quarterfinal win, and before that was a 75-67 win at New Mexico. To reach this point, Weber State has relied on a balanced attack to help offset the loss of leading scorer Regina Okoye, who was averaging 16.2 points and 6.7 rebounds before she suffered a knee injury in a Jan. 23 loss against Idaho State. Junior guard Deeshyra Thomas has helped pick up the scoring slack: She has reached the 30-point mark twice, including scoring 30 in that win at North Dakota.
For Cajuns senior Kia Wilridge, lineup changes created a need for her to alternate between being a shooting guard and a part-time point guard along with Veal. As the Wildcats clawed their way to Saturday’s title shot, Wilridge had a career-high 22 points in the 69-49 semifinal win over Youngstown State on Wednesday.
“One thing I have noticed about Kia since she was young: It’s about playing and winning as a team for her,” Brodhead said. “It’s hard to find kids like that. That is going to be one of the most difficult things to replace in (Wilridge). She is selfless in the way she plays and the things she brings.”
Along with those internal motivators, there still is the lure of being crowned a champion. For Weber State, a win Saturday would mark its first national postseason tournament championship; it won Big Sky tournament titles in 2002 and 2003.
The Cajuns, of course, are out to defend their WBI championship, clinched last season with a win over Siena.
“It’s pretty hard to win something back-to-back,” senior forward Brooklyn Arceneaux said. “And just to do it with this group of girls would be awesome.”