Once the clock hit all zeroes in Tuesday night’s 53-39 Class 4A semifinal win over Minden, in Darius Mimms’ mind, it immediately reset to 32:00. Win or lose, blowout or buzzer-beater, that’s how much time the Warren Easton coach has left with his star-studded senior trio.
The girls he chews out in practice, only to call or send a sheepish text to hours later to apologize. The girls who have been through brutal injuries — including a pair of torn ACLs, one coming in a throw-away powderpuff football game. The crew that only became whole again Tuesday night for the first time this year, as Kiana Anderson returned to the floor — only cleared by her doctor this week — after blowing out her knee over the summer.
Mimms only got one full season with the three, their junior campaign. With everyone healthy and the journey about to begin, he gave them a challenge: captain our quest for back-to-back state titles.
The first leg didn’t come easy, grinding to a 20-8 regular-season record that included an 8-8 start, before blossoming in the postseason — first knocking off No. 1 Benton 64-54 in the semis before downing No. 3 Neville 56-40 for the first of possibly two trophies.
But it came on the heels of a motto Mimms adopted when these girls had just joined his varsity program: Take what we want. The coach elaborated: it doesn’t matter the refs, the opponent, the star on the other team. There’s a trophy we want, and you’re in our way, so pardon us as we thrust you to the side by any means possible.
In Tuesday’s win over Minden, setting up another tough matchup with top-seeded Benton, that meant doing the little things, like scrapping for loose balls, banging in the paint against bigger bodies, knocking down free throws in the final half-a-quarter with the Lady Tigers desperately trying to save their own season.
And sometimes, it meant taking control of the game when it warranted it. The Eagles’ do-it-all guard Cabria Lewis found a window with 90 seconds left in the first quarter, the foes knotted at six-apiece. Her mid-range touch jumper broke the tie, and then she mastered back-to-back steals on the other end the following two Minden possessions, turning them into textbook coast-to-coast layups. In a matter of 40 seconds, Warren Easton all-the-sudden held a six-point lead, the type that really holds weight in a game largely won in the paint and where the two teams combined for nearly 40 total turnovers.
Lewis and fellow senior Casey Harris fed off that burst heading into the second quarter, combining for a quick five points that pushed that six-point lead to 11 — capped by a crossover from Lewis that put her defender on her back, followed with a lunge to the basket and a put-back-bucket.
Though it felt like they had the steam to storm ahead and win in blowout fashion, Minden’s occasional 3-pointer from seniors Destini Powell, Bre Rogers and Derrica Gilbert helped the Lady Tigers tread water. The trio combined for 36 of their team’s 39 points on the night and finished a combined 7-of-17 from beyond the arc. As a team, Minden was 7-for-23 on two’s.
Tianna Williams’ back-to-back 3-pointers late in the third at the time appeared to put the game out of reach, pushing Warren Easton ahead 41-22. But for the second consecutive game, Mimms’ girls began to play “not to lose” instead of “to win”, going scoreless for a 5:14 stretch. Even so, their defense only allowed eight points, and by that time with under a minute to go, Minden had to begin the foul-and-pray comeback method – one that rarely works, hardly ever on a double-digit deficit.
“Those games build character,” Mimms said. “I’ve been coaching girls for 15 years — 13 at Easton — and there’s always peaks and valleys. I go hard at them, but I’ll also pick them up when they’re down.”
Through two state title runs and devastating injuries — and the tight wins, fierce defeats and debilitating physical therapy sessions that went into it all — Mimms has been to the mountaintops and the bayous with his three seniors. No matter how their last 32 minutes together end, they will likely be filled with both.
But the bond they built over these four years has brought an unrelenting confidence that’s normally saved for TV cameras. There were none in the media room late Tuesday night, but the four weren’t afraid to lay down the truth according to the Eagles.
“We’re going to get the job done. He believed we could do it, so we’re going to do it,” Anderson said. “We’ll bring it home, hold up No. 2.
“We’re greedy. We want it all, and we’re going to take what’s ours.”
Said Lewis: “I don’t think anybody in Louisiana can beat us.”