LAFAYETTE — Students and faculty members at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette can see a daily slow-motion version of Kia Wilridge’s first three seasons on the women’s basketball team.
“When I go to class, they (my teammates) tell me that I am always speed-walking,” Wilridge said.
The Ragin’ Cajuns’ opponents see the game time version of Wilridge, a junior who leads the Sun Belt Conference in steals at three per game.
“If she is not the conference Defensive Player of the Year, I’ll be really surprised,” Cajuns coach Garry Brodhead said Monday afternoon. The conference named the University of Arkansas-Little Rock’s Ka’Nesheia Cobbins the Defensive Player of the Year on Tuesday.
Defending is a role that Wilridge embraced early as a freshman. She knew that her two main contributions would be to defend and distribute the ball within the offense. Picking her proper spots to become a scorer came further down on the priority list. Wilridge ranks third on the team in scoring average at 12.7. But when she mentally breaks down the details of individual plays throughout the season, defense is the dominant theme.
“Sometimes during a game, I’ll remember if somebody likes to drive the baseline or if the other team sets a lot of screens for her,” Wilridge said. “I’ll try to feel for a screen. Or if Simone (Fields) is at the top, she will say, ‘left side screen.’ That helps a lot, because you don’t know exactly how it is going to happen. A lot of it is just instincts, though.”
That combination of instinct and speed enables Wilridge to roam the floor at times and intercept an opposing inbound pass or outlet pass. That dual effort in half-court and full-court defensive situations endears Wilridge to her basketball teachers.
“She is fearless and she never stops,” Cajun associate head coach Sallie Guillory said. “I have never seen anybody play as hard as her.”
When the Cajuns faced 20th-ranked Mississippi State in December, Wilridge, a 5-foot-5 guard, grabbed seven rebounds against a Southeastern Conference opponent that featured 6-4 center Martha Alwal and 6-1 forward Victoria Vivians. The Cajuns came away with a 66-51 loss. Wilridge wanted it to be a look into the future.
“I think that MSU game gave us a sneak peek of where we could be,” Wilridge said. “It told us we could compete against all the different teams.”
The Cajuns’ early plan for this season went through some changes on the fly because of season-ending injuries to guards Sylvana Okde and Brooklyn Arceneaux that had carried over from last year. Fields had to provide a post presence as a freshman to help compensate — and the Cajuns’ depth took a hit.
“We have practiced for that, to dump the ball down to the post and for them to be ready to score,” Wilridge said.
Setbacks are not ideal for a speed-walker, but Wilridge has learned to step back and analyze them.
“You can take something from every situation,” Wilridge said. “Defensively, you see that we can get away with this or we can’t do that (as a team). Sometimes, you need a loss to learn.”