LAKE CHARLES — It’s Jamie Gibson’s favorite move. She spins and lofts a one-handed floater to the basket. Gibson has done it thousands of times.
But it never meant more as Gibson converted her patented move with 4.5 seconds left to send Walker to a state championship game for the first time since 1987.
“I’ve dreamed about making a shot like that … well, maybe not exactly like that,” Gibson said. “But it’s definitely a dream come true.”
Gibson finished with a game-high 19 points, leading second-seeded Walker to a 51-49 victory over No. 11 New Iberia in the Class 5A semifinal that closed Thursday’s action at the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Girls Top 28 tournament.
With the victory, Walker (31-5) advances to play top-seeded Ponchatoula (31-3) in the 5A final set for 8 p.m. Saturday at Burton Coliseum. WHS last won a state title in 1977.
Walker coach Korey Arnold praised Gibson saying, “She’s a student of the game. She’s gotten better every game. She did some things in this game today I’ve never seen her do so she’s still improving.”
The game was mixture of emotion, athleticism and will-power. Kacie Fountain, who finished with 16 points on 6 of 13 shooting, played most of the second half with four fouls for the winners.
Kierra Anthony scored all 16 of her points in the second half — including the final 10 of the game — for New Iberia (19-14) after getting in foul trouble early. Reneisha Alfred added 12 points and Urionne Jolivette had 10 for the Yellow Jackets, who made their first tourney appearance since 1980.
“The game was played exactly like we knew it would be,” New Iberia assistant coach Jeremy Bonin said. “(It was) two hard-fighting teams that both play hard, that were both well-coached and that were both disciplined.
“They made one more play in the game than we did. We have nothing to hang our hats on. There was a time in the season that nobody thought that we’d be here. I’m extremely proud of the girls on the side of me, and I’m extremely proud of the girls that are in the locker room right now that are a little hurt.”
Free throws gave New Iberia a 4-1 lead. That quickly turned into an issue for the Yellow Jackets, who were 0-for-7 from the field in the first quarter.
Fountain led Walker’s surge into the lead with six first-quarter points. Walker led 13-8 after one quarter. Foul trouble sent a key player to the bench for both teams. First it was Walker’s Keeona Brown who left with 3:09 to go in the first quarter with three fouls. NISH’s Anthony followed a short time later.
The Wildcats scored the first seven points of the second quarter and led 20-8 after two free throws by Miranda Smith with 5:14 left.
Morgan Carrier scored the first field goal for New Iberia to make it 20-10. The Yellow Jackets rolled off 10 of the final 16 points in the half, cutting the WHS lead to 26-20.
Free throws continued to bolster NISH’s offense in the third quarter. Anthony and Jolivette each hit two free throws to pull the Yellow Jackets closer. Just after Fountain picked up her fourth foul, Alexis Jones sank a 3-pointer from deep in the left corner to cut Walker’s lead to 31-30.
The teams traded baskets once more before Gibson converted a three-point play to give Walker a 36-32 lead with 2:41 left. Arnold’s gamble to keep Fountain in the game with four fouls paid off. She made a jumper from the free-throw line area and dished to Krystal Hutchinson, who made a 3-pointer from the wing that helped WHS take a 43-36 lead into the final quarter.
Walker stretched its lead to nine early in the fourth quarter, but New Iberia refused to go away. Anthony scored the final 10 points and tied the game three times. The final time she made a jumper in the lane to tie it at 49 with 42 seconds left.
“I thought over the course of the game we did just enough defensively,” Arnold said. “And these two guys right here (Gibson and Fountain) carried us offensively the whole game.”
Including the final play.
“I grabbed the ball and I heard people hollering ‘shoot’ and I was like ‘OK, I’m shooting,’ ” Gibson saidd. “My teammates put me in the right spots and they trusted me.”
When Gibson shared credited Fountain, who made the pass before the game-winning shot, Fountain’s response was “No, that was all you.”