LAFAYETTE — The signal that March is in full swing came to University of Louisiana at Lafayette women’s basketball coach Garry Brodhead when he made pregame eye contact with many of his players Saturday — visual clues of the defensive performance ahead in the Cajuns’ 56-47 win over Georgia Southern at the Cajundome.
“This part of the season — this is the time,” Brodhead said. “I saw it in their eyes. It’s March Madness.”
On Senior Night, seniors Brooklyn Arceneaux, Adrienne Prejean, Keke Veal and Kia Wilridge helped fuel a first-half effort that saw the Cajuns force 15 turnovers while the Cajuns committed only four miscues in the first 20 minutes.
“At one point, we were sixth in the country in turnover margin,” Brodhead said. “We took care of the ball better tonight, and we play better defense when we are taking care of the ball.”
When the Cajuns (20-9, 13-7) forced Georgia Southern (7-22, 4-16) to play halfcourt offense, the Eagles tried to counter with a long-range attack. That resulted in Georgia Southern going 1-for-11 on 3-point attempts in the opening half.
That enabled the Cajuns to create some breathing room on the scoreboard. The Cajuns went on a 17-5 run to close the first half for a 31-18 halftime lead.
“It’s tournament time and you can’t play around,” Wilridge said. “We are guaranteed one game on Wednesday (in the Sun Belt Conference tournament, and that is all we are guaranteed.”
Before they get to New Orleans for that tourney, Brodhead employed a handful of lineups in the second half to get a look at many underclassmen in third and fourth-quarter game situations.
“Once we settled down, we defended really well — especially Kia on the (opposing) point guard,” Brodhead said. “We shot it really well in the third quarter. We were also trying to get in the flow of the game. I know we were running a lot of different kids in and out.”
The Cajuns pushed their lead past the 20-point mark when Veal made a jumper with 8:20 left in the third quarter. By the time the quarter ended, the Cajuns were ahead 49-27.
The Eagles climbed closer in the final 10 minutes as the Cajuns called upon a full lineup of reserves. The closest Georgia Southern got came with 1:06 left when Alexis Sams drained a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 55-46. Freshman center Alex Weeks scored the Cajuns’ last point of the regular season on a free throw with 21 seconds remaining.
By clinching the No. 3 seed in the conference tournament, the Cajuns set up a meeting with No. 6 seed Texas-Arlington in the final game on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. The Cajuns won both regular-season games between the teams 63-52 in Lafayette on Jan. 30 and 59-42 in Arlington, Texas, on Feb. 18.