Ragin’ Cajuns work to shore up defense _lowres

Advocate staff photo by BRAD BOWIE -- Louisiana-Lafayette's Keke Veal takes a shot on Thursday night while the Cajuns host Arkansas State at the Cajundome.

LAFAYETTE — In a battle for second place in the Sun Belt, the first priority for the Ragin’ Cajuns women’s basketball team is making sure many moments are contested at even strength.

Louisiana-Lafayette coach Garry Brodhead came out of Thursday’s loss to Arkansas State stressing the Cajuns need to have certain numbers match up when the Cajuns (16-6, 9-4) take on Little Rock (11-11, 9-4) at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Cajundome.

“Against Little Rock, if we can play 5-on-5, we have a chance,” Brodhead said. “If we play 3-on-2 or 2-on-1 against Little Rock where we are turning it over and they are getting it downcourt before we do, it’s going to be difficult. Then we are going to get in foul trouble.”

When the Cajuns and Trojans met in Little Rock on Jan. 7, UL-Lafayette had a pair of players foul out. Although Simone Fields and Brooklyn Arceneaux both eventually had to head to the bench, Keke Veal poured in a career-high 30 points to help power the Cajuns to a 65-58 win. Within that effort, Veal made 6-of-10 from 3-point range.

The Trojans were 3-8 after that loss. Trojans coach Joe Foley, who has won 255 games in his 13 years at Little Rock, has used the last handful of weeks to get his squad headed back in a better direction.

Since that Cajuns win, the Trojans have climbed back to the .500 mark and have won six straight. That has included three times when Little Rock limited opponents to under 40 points. Georgia Southern, Georgia State and Louisiana-Monroe managed 36, 32 and 37 against the Trojans.

“Playing against a Joe Foley team is going to be a battle,” Brodhead said. “Both teams are going to be playing defense, and the crowd is maybe going to fall asleep. He’s got them playing really well right now. But it’s about us and believing what we are doing.”

Senior forward Shanity James has been the Trojan doing much of the work offensively during Little Rock’s streak. She has led the team in scoring in four of the past five games and has reached double figures in all six as part of her 14.7 scoring average. James (5-foot-11) also leads the Trojans on the boards at 7.1 rebounds per game. Guard Sharde’ Collins has been the Trojans’ most accurate 3-point threat. She has converted 37 percent of her long-distance attempts.

While Veal and Cajuns guard Kia Wilridge combined for 41 points in the win at Little Rock, Brodhead is focused on how well his guards and post players pick up the likes of James, Collins and guard Alexius Dawn when the Trojans are in fast-break situations following a missed shot by the Cajuns.

“It’s not just to get back on defense,” Brodhead said. “It’s a lot of work. You have to get back and then you have to cover out to give the post (player) time to get in — and they are running and trying. It’s a focus, and it’s not easy to do.”

That element is part of the Cajuns working to maintain a 56.2 points-allowed average in conference games that has them ranked second in the Sun Belt.

“Our defensive transition has not been as good as it was the last two or three years,” Brodhead said. “This year, we are struggling a little bit and trying to work ourselves back in it. We have to get better in defensive transition or people will score 70 on us. We can’t allow people to score 70 and win games.”