LAFAYETTE — The women’s basketball squad that ranked second in the Sun Belt Conference in steals last season received an unofficial license to be more energized defensively.
The trio of guards — Jaylyn Gordon, Keke Veal and Kia Wilridge — who patrolled the perimeter for Louisiana-Lafayette during its 23-12 run last year now have some reasons to increase the pressure on opponents.
Freshmen Breionne Cooper (6-foot-3) and Jordan Alexander (6-1) provide some additional size in the post to give another presence beside 6-0 sophomore Simone Fields, a forward who averaged 6.4 points and 4.5 rebounds in 27 minutes per game.
“We can be way more aggressive now, because we have backup and height now, and we know that,” Veal said. “They are going to help (the guards) out.”
Instead of having to sag toward the paint to help the interior defense, the guards may be able to pressure the ball more thanks to the additional shot-blockers and rebounders down low. That extra step or two from the lane could lead to more steals or other turnovers.
“That is a better way for us to guard the guards,” Gordon said.
“Now, the other guards can’t see the court if we get up (closer) on them.”
Despite the changes, some things are still the same for the Cajuns heading into their season opener Sunday at Ole Miss. Wilridge had 100 steals in 35 games to top the Sun Belt with a 2.9 average. She did not reach triple digits by staying glued to a certain area.
“She is the (on-court) master of the defensive side,” Veal said. “Whatever she has to do on defense, she is going to do it. If she has to help us out, she is going to do it, no matter if she has to run cross court or what.”
The offensive attack has some new elements to it with the addition of assistant coach Katherine Katz, who previously served as an assistant coach at Samford for five seasons. The Bulldogs incorporated principles of the Princeton offense, which is centered around motion, frequent screening and decisions made as plays develop against a defense.
Veal and Gordon said there are still the basic drive-and-dish situations within the offense, but there are more options included within that package of using guard penetration into the lane to set up a score.
“We can still all get to the rim,” Veal said. “It’s basically the same things with more options.”
Veal, Gordon and Wilridge were the Cajuns’ top three options last season, as all three averaged double figures in scoring. Veal had a 14.9 ppg average, Gordon 13.4 and Wilridge 12.3.
The Cajuns have had some growing pains while learning the new offense in spite of the 95 points they scored in a Monday exhibition victory over LSU-Alexandria. However, a side benefit could come from forcing opponents to do some homework of their own.
“We were frustrated sometimes learning a new offense that we weren’t used to, but it’s good because now they need a new scout,” Gordon said.
One Cajun who will help with the on-court details is senior Brooklyn Arceneaux, who red-shirted last season because of injury. Her communication skills and vision are a couple of things ordon and Veal said are major assets for both the guards and post players.
“Brooklyn is smart,” Gordon said. “She knows the game and understands the game. She helps others.”
It is a process that has taken coach Garry Brodhead a handful of years to put in place.
“When we got here, we had five freshmen, and they knew they were going to play,” Brodhead said. “We have kids now who can push the older kids. The freshmen are better coming in, but they are also still confused. So the more reps we get them, the better they get.”