LAFAYETTE — After the Ragin’ Cajuns take an early ride to the arena Thursday, a homecoming will include a bunch of kids and a two-sided challenge.
When the University of Louisiana at Lafayette women’s basketball team (16-7, 9-5) takes on UT Arlington (12-11, 7-6) in an 11:30 a.m. Sun Belt game at the College Park Center, youth from four school districts will be waiting to welcome the Cajuns to the start of their four-game road trip.
That is part of the Maverick Spirit Kids Day atmosphere Cajuns’ guard Taylor Washington will encounter. The junior from Arlington, Texas, scored a career-high 19 points and made 5-of-6 from 3-point range when the teams squared off at the Cajundome on Jan. 30.
Despite the solid scoring from Washington and guard Keke Veal, who combined for 40 points in the 63-52 Cajuns win, the defense that limited UTA to 10 fourth-quarter points may have been more memorable for the coaches and some players.
“They didn’t shoot a lot of 3s, and our guards played really good defense on them,” Cajuns senior forward Brooklyn Arceneaux said. “But (the Mavs) really focus on trying to get it inside. They focus on that high-low game.”
The biggest part of that for the Mavs is 6-foot-5 sophomore center Rebekah VanDijk, who is averaging 11.7 points and 8.7 rebounds. While VanDijk had 17 points and 11 rebounds in the first game, the Cajuns made sure that forward Toma Zaleckaite was the only other UT Arlington player to top 10 points.
“Our plan was to pressure their guards and eliminate a lot of the 3s,” Cajuns coach Garry Brodhead said. “At the end of the game, we switched, too, and we tried to front VanDijk inside. We tried to do it in a different way. You can side front and you can full front. It worked out for us. We were lucky enough that they missed some shots early on, and their confidence level wasn’t probably as good as it normally is. They can really shoot the ball.”
That defensive pressure on the perimeter has been a main reason why the Cajuns lead the conference in scoring defense, allowing 55.7 points per game.
“That’s one of the things we are blessed with: Our defense can pressure,” Brodhead said. “There are not a lot of people in our league that can do that. That is what worries me when I talk about defensive transition. That is where most of the (opponents’) 3s are coming from. It’s because we are sprinting back and we are not getting out and covering. I’m worried about it this time. Are they going to be looking for transition 3s and we’ll have to pick up early and locate those shooters and get out and cover?”
In half-court situations, Arceneaux, who is second on the Cajuns with a 4.5 rebounding average, said the Mavs have to be held to one chance per possession to help get the trip off to a good start. VanDijk had four offensive rebounds in the teams’ first game, but the rest of the Mavs had only two.
“It would be a really good boost for us to get this win,” Arceneaux said. “It’s up to us to stay focused and do the little things we have to do to win this game.”