When Louisiana Tech’s Chrisstasia Walter had her 3-point shot bounce off the rim at the horn Saturday, decades of frustration and nightmares were symbolically wiped away for the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s women’s basketball team.
After 39 straight losses, the’ Cajuns had prevailed over one of the storied names in the women’s game, although one that hasn’t been its former dominant self in recent years.
“A lot of our girls knew about them and how good they were for so long,” Cajuns coach Garry Brodhead said not long after his squad took its stunning 58-55 win over the Lady Techsters Saturday at Earl K. Long Gym. “But when they saw that zero-and-39 posted everywhere, that stuck with them more than anything.
“The fact we hadn’t won a game against them meant more than the tradition that Tech had. They knew they could be the first to do that, and they bought into that.”
Saturday’s win was no fluke for Brodhead’s team, which is 3-0 in the regular season and has won five straight including exhibition wins. The Cajuns led by as many as 18 points at 32-14 in the last two minutes of the first half, out-shot (48.9 to 38.2) and out-rebounded (34-32) the Techsters, and outscored the visitors 30-16 in the paint.
“I really thought the type of defense we came out with, that we could slow them down,” Brodhead said. “The last couple of games, we’re running a little different offense and we’re getting really good shots, playing four-out and getting to the rim. In the first half, we did an excellent job of taking good shots and playing within the system.”
Junior and leading scorer KeKe Veal was saddled with foul trouble and scored nine points in 22 minutes, but fellow junior Kia Wilridge and sophomore Jaylyn Gordon filled the void with 18 and 15 points respectively.
Brodhead credited his team’s experience for the solid start, both Saturday and for the season, even though his roster includes only one senior (St. Thomas More product Robbie Brown).
“We finally have some maturity with those juniors and sophomores, and you see it showing,” he said. “The last couple of years we’ve played good games with good teams like Western Kentucky, Little Rock, and couldn’t quite finish. Saturday, we were able to hold it together, hold on and finish. The kids believe in what we’re doing.”
Freshman Simone Fields of San Antonio has also been a major factor, averaging nine points and seven rebounds after hitting all four of her shots against Tech.
“We knew she could come in and rebound and could develop into a scorer,” Brodhead said. “We didn’t think it would happen this quick. She can finish, she’s strong and she’s good around the goal.”
Fields’ rapid improvement was badly needed with the Cajuns short-handed inside. Juniors Brooklyn Arceneaux of Lafayette-St. Thomas More and Jasmin Mills of Belle Rose-Assumption have been sidelined with knee injuries, with Mills expected back before the start of Sun Belt Conference play in late December and Arceneaux looking for a mid-January return.
That conference start, Dec. 30 at Arkansas-Little Rock, can’t come soon enough for Brodhead. Since the Sun Belt is playing a full 20-game schedule this year, with all 11 teams playing each other twice, the Cajuns’ limited nonconference schedule is stretched out over seven weeks. UL-Lafayette doesn’t play again until Saturday at Southeastern Louisiana, and has two more single-game weeks against Sam Houston State Dec. 6 and Southern-New Orleans Dec. 13.
“We had to spread them out since we can only play nine non-conference,” he said. “We want to play more now, because later we’re going to play some Thursday-Saturday-Monday stretches in the conference. I don’t like it a lot but we didn’t have a lot of choice. The good thing is that we were able to recruit some this week.”