LAFAYETTE — When Kia Wilridge thinks about Little Rock and Jonesboro, Arkansas, the memory of those towns and arenas comes out in one elongated word.
“It’s a long game,” Wilridge said with a short laugh at the end. Emphasis was on the word long.
For the Louisiana-Lafayette women’s basketball team, trips to face Arkansas-Little Rock at 5:15 p.m. Thursday and Arkansas State at 3:05 p.m. Saturday will provide an opportunity to build upon a 2-0 start in Sun Belt play.
Seniors such as Wilridge and forward Adrienne Prejean have become familiar with the road stops in conference during the past few years. Although people graduate and freshmen come into the fray, some things remain a constant.
Taylor Gault, the Most Outstanding Player at the conference tournament last season, is gone from Little Rock’s roster. So is Ka’nesheia Cobbins, the Defensive Player of the Year. But the Cajuns’ film study said that two people do not tell the Trojans’ story.
“Gault was one of the better players, but they are still one of the better teams,” Prejean said. “The style of play is the same. Without her, they are not quite as strong, but they are still a strong team.”
Little Rock is 3-8 and has split its first two conference games: a road win over South Alabama and a loss at Troy. The nonconference slate featured tests from the likes of Texas A&M, Oklahoma, LSU and Tulane. Senior Shanity James ranks sixth in the conference in scoring at 15.1 points a game.
The Cajuns (9-2), who are one of three 2-0 teams in conference, counter with the scoring of Keke Veal, Wilridge and junior Jaylyn Gordon. All are averaging at least 13 points with Veal tops at 15.3.
Gordon has raised her assists total as she has taken on point-guard duties this season compared to playing off the ball in catch-and-shoot situations more often last season. Gordon had 76 assists in 34 games last year. Now she has 37 assists through 11 games.
Wilridge mentioned that junior status as a possible benefit for Gordon.
“For me, things didn’t really start to click until around my junior year,” Wilridge said. “Jay is right there at her junior point. It starts to click and you are like, ‘I want it. I really want to win.’ Freshman year, it seems like it is never going to end. In your sophomore year, that part is not as bad. In your junior year, it’s ‘let’s just play.’”
When the Cajuns play the Red Wolves in the second part of the trip, they will face a program that split two regular-season contests with the Cajuns last season before the Red Wolves hung on for a 63-61 win in the semifinals of the conference tournament.
The Red Wolves (8-3, 2-0) went through the same Alabama duo that Little Rock faced. Arkansas State emerged 2-0. That included a 101-point outburst against Troy in which Aundrea Gamble, the reigning Player of The Year, finished with seven points. Amanda Lawson, who averages 10.2 points, scored a career-high 23.
It is a challenge that Prejean said the Cajuns have gradually gotten a better feel for.
“Arkansas State plays hard,” Prejean said. “We don’t look at it like the other team has an advantage, though. We consider ourselves to be one of the best teams in the conference.”