LAFAYETTE — If the Ragin’ Cajuns wanted an exciting return home, Garry Brodhead had a feeling that success or failure would come down to a series of 50/50 propositions.
The UL-Lafayette women’s basketball coach felt that dealing with a big South Alabama team would require getting the best of the Jaguars in loose-ball and rebounding situations.
“We got a lot of rebounds off blocked shots,” Brodhead said. “We took a stat on 50/50 balls. We beat them 3-1 on 50/50 balls. Keke Veal at the end of the game was diving on the floor. That’s how we have to play. We have to continue doing that and have that culture whether we are up by 50 or down by 50.”
Winning those small battles enabled the Cajuns to walk out of the Cajundome Thursday night with a 69-50 victory over South Alabama. The reward was a home win in the Cajuns’ first home game since Jan. 2 that bumped the team’s record to 13-3 and 6-1 in the Sun Belt.
Jaguars post player Chyna Ellis came out energized for the visitors, as she scored seven of South Alabama’s first nine points to keep the game tight at an 11-9 Cajuns advantage with 4:09 left in the first period. That marked a turning point. The Cajuns prevented South Alabama from scoring again and by the end of the quarter, UL-Lafayette had built a 21-9 advantage.
“After a while, the guards started cheating down to help the post players (defensively),” Cajun guard Kia Wilridge said. “The post players always help us on drives so we had to help the post players out.”
That plan helped the Cajuns make a big dent in the early Jaguars scoring spree. South Alabama followed up its nine-point first period by putting up eight points in the second quarter. By the time the teams headed to the locker room at halftime, UL-Lafayette led 33-17.
The Cajuns won the rebounding battle in the first half 22-18 and they limited South Alabama to a 7-of-27 shooting effort from the field. Brooklyn Arceneaux led the Cajuns on the boards in the first 20 minutes by pulling down six of her eight rebounds.
“It was good for us to finally play at home,” Arceneaux said. “That is where we are the most comfortable. I felt like I had good energy.”
The Cajuns pushed the lead to 20 points at the 3:36 mark of the third period when freshman Breionne Cooper converted a layup off a Jaylyn Gordon pass to make the margin 43-23. Adrienne Prejean grabbed a loose ball off a blocked shot in the closing seconds and scored on a layup to give the Cajuns a 49-30 cushion heading into the final 10 minutes.
The Cajuns went ahead by as much as 30 in the fourth quarter before the Jaguars narrowed the gap during the final two minutes. Ellis finished with a game-high 16 points to lead South Alabama (6-10, 2-5). Gordon had 14 points, Wilridge had 12 and Veal had 10 for the Cajuns, who will take on the Troy Trojans at 4 p.m. Saturday.
“Offensively, I thought we were a lot more patient than we usually are,” Brodhead said. “We were able to get layups and just kind of weather their storm at the beginning because we started off really slow.”