Staunch defense carries Cajuns women by Northwestern State _lowres

Advocate staff photo by BRAD BOWIE -- Lafayette's Keke Veal, right, tries to work around Northestern State's Jackie Perez on Wednsday at the Cajundome.

LAFAYETTE — Thanks to an early blitz, the Ragin’ Cajuns forced a Northwestern State stalwart into some tough spots and booked a second-round ticket in the Women’s Basketball Invitational.

The Louisiana-Lafayette women’s basketball team held Northwestern State point guard Janelle Perez scoreless Wednesday at the Cajundome, as the Cajuns secured a 69-54 win over the Lady Demons in an opening-round game of the tournament the Cajuns won last season.

Perez entered the contest as the Lady Demons’ leading scorer, averaging 15.8 points. However, the Cajuns put the Lady Demon offense out of rhythm thanks to some early presses.

“One of the decisions we made was to make it a full-court game instead of half-court,” Cajuns coach Garry Brodhead said. “We were face-guarding and pressing to really get after (Perez). We did a great job on defense.”

The Cajuns created some space against the Lady Demons during the opening 10 minutes by forcing 10 turnovers on the way to building a 28-8 lead. By the time the first period was over, Cajuns guards Kia Wilridge and Jodi Quinn had combined for six steals, with Quinn serving as the man-to-man defender on Perez.

“We just wanted (Perez) to not touch the ball as much if we could do that,” Quinn said. “She was really quick and a good player. It feels good.”

Senior guard Keke Veal complemented that defensive effort by putting 15 of her game-high 26 points on the board in the first quarter. She turned a Lady Demons turnover into the final points of the quarter on a 3-point play with 17 seconds remaining. Her layup and free throw accounted for the 20-point advantage.

“Of course we want to run plays (when needed), but at the same time, we want to get our baskets off the fast break,” Veal said. “Then we can get easy baskets, take the lead and try to stay on top.”

The Cajuns managed that mission throughout the remaining three periods. The Lady Demons cut into the lead late in the second quarter, as a jumper by Beatrice Attura pulled Northwestern State to within 38-24 with 1:36 left in the half.

However, the Cajuns kept their distance by making 13-of-14 free throws in the third quarter along with knocking down 6-of-9 from the field. Sophomore forward Simone Fields had 10 of the Cajuns’ 25 points in the third, as an inside-out attack helped UL-Lafayette expand the lead to 63-37 heading into the fourth.

“We have gotten better at attacking the zone (defense),” Brodhead said. “We are attacking the middle of the lane so much better and our movement without the ball has gotten better.”

Northwestern State closed the gap with a 17-6 spread on the fourth, but the Lady Demons got no closer than the final margin.

Attura and Keisha Lee each scored 14 points to pace the Lady Demons, who finished their season 19-12. Fields had 18 points. and Wilridge added 12 for the Cajuns (22-10), who will host the winner of a Thursday matchup between Stetson and McNeese State. That winner will face the Cajuns at 7 p.m. Saturday at Earl K. Long Gym.