Some games just ooze with signs of progress.
That was certainly the case with UL women’s basketball's impressive 73-68 home Sun Belt Conference win over South Alabama at the Cajundome.
“We grew a lot the last couple of weeks, and we continue to get better,” UL coach Garry Brodhead said. “This team seems to be pulling for one another, and they’re playing together.”
It was about as big as the third game of the conference season can be.
The ridiculous Sun Belt schedule has the Cajuns on the road for five of their first six games.
After splitting games in Georgia last weekend, the Cajuns (9-5, 2-1) faced a big obstacle in South Alabama, which made the Sun Belt tourney finals last season and had the Preseason Player of the Year in center Antoinette Lewis.
“I was concerned,” Brodhead said. “One game doesn’t dictate anything, but I knew this could be a big win.”
Not only was it a win, but the Cajuns led from start to finish.
They barely got outrebounded 44-41 and limited turnovers to eight while forcing 17.
South Alabama (6-9, 1-2) made a late run, cutting UL’s lead — which got as big as 13 at one point in the first half — to one at 55-54 with 6:16 left to play.
But Skyler Goodwin nailed eight free throws in the final 1:44 to ice the victory.
“I shot them pretty well, because our coach tell us that we should worry about free throws and layups,” said Goodwin, who led UL with 17 points, five rebounds and three assists.
“Luckily yesterday he made us make 100 (free throws) before we left the gym. That really helped.”
The Cajuns’ only other double-figure scorer was Kimberly Burton with 12 points and six boards. Ty’Reona Doucet collected seven points, 18 rebounds, four assists and four steals.
And while she may not have reached double digits, junior guard Jomyra Mathis played a huge role in the win with her focus and confidence, as well as eight points and two rebounds.
Her final stat line didn’t do her contribution justice.
“My team and my coaches always tell me I need to get focused and stay locked in,” Mathis said. “I’m a bit of a free spirit, so sometimes I’ve got to get it locked in. Today was just, I want to win for my team. We wanted this game and it showed out there.”
Because of their discipline on offense, the Cajuns outscored South Alabama 21-6 in point off turnovers and 25-3 in bench scoring.
“We all believe in one another and we have the numbers,” Mathis said. “One, two, three, four, five people come off the bench and the energy is going to stay the same. We all have confidence in each other, and we’re glued together this year.”
The reduced turnover total helped UL’s defense as well.
“Our team defense is so important,” Brodhead said. “More impressive, we didn’t turn it over. It’s not just the offense; if we don’t turn it over, we’ve got a chance to guard. It makes the defense better.”
The team’s mental toughness was apparent. Once the Jaguars cut the lead to one, UL quickly responded with a 6-0 run to fend off the visitors.
“The focus last year wouldn’t have been there,” Brodhead said. “I think they would have continued to pressure us more to make more turnovers, but we were actually getting some layups out of their press breaker. That’s even more growth.”
With this critical home win, it’s back to the road for the Cajuns, who play Saturday at Troy where UL has never won in the Brodhead era. Due to bad weather in Alabama, the game was moved to 11 a.m. after originally slated for 2 p.m.
“Going to Troy, we’ve got to stay focused — same defensive keys, same offensive keys, move the ball, talk on defense, help, team effort,” Mathis said.