LAFAYETTE — When Little Rock and Louisiana-Lafayette had a small margin between them, the Trojans found some separation by going big.
Little Rock’s front line duo of Shanity James and Kaitlyn Pratt combined for 41 points as the Trojans pulled away for a 58-49 win over the Ragin’ Cajun women’s basketball squad on Saturday at the Cajundome.
James and Pratt were part of the Trojans’ big lineup, which featured three forwards at 5-foot-11, 6-1 and 6-1 to go along with a pair of guards.
“I thought their big lineup was effective for them,” Cajuns coach Garry Brodhead said. “When we started helping up (defensively), their offense started to go and they started getting shots. James is a good player. She is difficult to guard, and she is athletic.”
The Cajuns trailed 41-39 with 7:39 left in the game when Little Rock forward Sharde’ Collins made a pair of free throws and grabbed a defensive rebound on the ensuing Cajuns possession before James converted a layup to stretch the Trojan advantage to 45-39 with 6:34 remaining.
Each time the Cajuns closed the gap, Little Rock responded to maintain its lead. UL-Lafayette sophomore Simone Fields made a layup to cut it to two at 49-47 with 2:43 left, but Pratt’s layup with 1:29 left pushed it back to a two-possession game.
“At their place, we stopped them and got them in foul trouble. But here we didn’t,” Cajuns’ guard Keke Veal said.
That was part of the back-and-forth between the teams in a split season series. The Cajuns managed a 65-58 win at Little Rock on Jan. 7, but the Trojans made the clutch plays this time.
“Probably the best program in the league is Little Rock,” Brodhead said. “It’s a challenge. We love it, and I think our kids do, too.”
Before their fourth-quarter success, the Trojans took a step toward that outcome in the final seconds of the third period when Monique Townson drained a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give Little Rock a 49-45 cushion.
“It was by design to not let that ball go to the middle,” Brodhead said. “We had it on the wing and we wanted to keep it on the wing. Somehow it got to the middle. Our defense isn’t playing as well as it was at the beginning of the season. Whether we are getting tired ... I think everybody in America is tired (at this part of the season). We have to fight through it instead of not working through it.”
Veal finished with 12 points to lead the Cajuns (16-7, 9-5 in Sun Belt). Kia Wilridge scored 11. Fields and Brooklyn Arceneaux each had eight. James led all players in scoring and rebounds with 22 points and 12 boards for Little Rock (12-11, 10-4).
The Cajuns will now hit the road for four straight games in trips to Texas and Alabama over the next two weeks. “We have some work to do -- especially on the defensive side — not to do some of the things we are doing,” Brodhead said. “Sometimes it’s just attitude and effort. We have to get back to that. We are doing just enough to stay with teams. We are going to have to do more.”