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Women’s Basketball: Jones pays dividends for Cajuns

Junior college transfer evolves into leader for UL.

Bruce Brown

Yolanda Jones was an All-American and a national champion playing for Trinity Valley Junior College, so she had the credentials to go to any number of universities to finish her collegiate eligibility.
It may have surprised some when she opted to join coach J. Kelley Hall’s Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns, since the school had such a dreary history in women’s basketball prior to his arrival, but she knew what she was doing.

“I didn’t want to go to a big school that always expected to win,” Jones said. “I wanted to go someplace with no good history, then prove something. If everything changed, that could only help me more.”

UL was 22-9 and West Division champions of the Sun Belt Conference last season, reaching the finals of the conference tournament. But UL was 44-226 over the 10-year span of the 1990s.
Now, with home games remaining at 4 p.m. today against Arkansas State and at 7 p.m. Saturday against Arkansas-Little Rock, the Cajuns are 17-8 and 7-6 in league play with a chance to repeat in the West.

“It can only get better,” said Jones, the team leader in scoring (18.5 points per game) and rebounds (11.1). “A lot has happened to put us back, but we can still do it.”

Jones quickly enjoyed success at Trinity Valley. The squad went 30-1 her first year, then won the national title the next season.

“That first year we won our first 30 in a row, then lost the last game to a team we’d blown out twice,” Jones recalled with lingering irritation. “We had to learn to take them serious, to get off our high horse.

“I learned then not to take anything for granted.”

When she arrived at UL, Jones was seen as the scorer and rebounder to take over for graduating Anna Petrakova, and she has lived up to the job.

“I totally expected it,” Jones said of her role. “When they were recruiting me the year before, they told me what they were trying to do with the program and told me what they needed of me. It’s been nothing I didn’t expect.”

“We’ve asked Yolie to try a lot of tough shots, because we don’t shoot that well as a team,” said Hall, whose Cajuns shoot just 36.9 percent from the field – 10th out of 11 teams in the Sun Belt. “I don’t know how it compares with the number of shots Anna took, but we knew Anna would get us 20 points a night in the lane.”

Jones tries 17 shots per game, while Petrakova was just over 13 attempts a game last season with more weapons around her.

“There’s always room to improve,” Jones said. “Sometimes I make bad decisions. I’m not satisfied easily, not on the court, on anything that can make myself and my team better.

One thing is certain, while senior point guard Ashley Blanche is the floor leader, Jones has emerged as the biggest threat.

“I like being a leader,” Jones said. “Not necessarily a talkative one. I want to be that player they count on – give Yolie the ball and she’ll score, the go-to player.”

It has been an educational season for Jones, especially once UL hit the Sun Belt.

“I thought I’d be able to dominate in the league,” Jones said. “I knew how I play, and what level I can play on, and I didn’t really know that much about the Sun Belt Conference.”

“I’m not a fan. If I’m not playing, I don’t watch basketball on TV, except maybe to see an outstanding player. I don’t follow it until championship time.

“I don’t watch. It’s not a hobby of mine. If I’m not in school or on the court, I’m in my room on the phone or playing games.”

Arkansas State enters today’s contest 11-14 and sure of a losing season unless the Indians win out and capture the Sun Belt Tournament. Power forward Kelsey Lock was injured with ASU ahead of Florida International by 20 points and FIU came back to win that contest.

Arkansas State hasn’t won since, falling to Middle Tennessee and Western Kentucky, and could have matchup problems with Jones.

The Cajuns, meanwhile, will need to defend on the perimeter since ASU has hit 72-of-221 3-pointers including 14-of-21 at WKU.

If UL can win today and Saturday, the Cajuns might yet reclaim the West.

“It’s been given to us,” Jones said. “We were sort of in a slump, and needed people to lose, and they did. That gives us a second chance. We have to take advantage of it.

“If we can win these two games, it will give us momentum for the tournament. That will help a lot.”

CAJUN CLIPPINGS: Ashley Blanche practiced on Wednesday and will have her injured right knee re-examined today to determine her availability for this weekend’s games … Jeanenne Colbert missed the drill to have her eye examined, residue of a preseason auto accident, but will start.

Arkansas State (11-14, 5-7) at Louisiana (17-8, 7-6)

Time: 4 p.m.


Site: Earl K. Long Gym (1,121).

Series: ASU leads 31-11.

Last Meeting: Cajuns won 66-64 in the 2005 regular season finale on Feb. 26 as Ashley Blanche’s jump shot gave UL the Sun Belt West Division title. UL then won 61-49 in the Sun Belt Tournament at North Texas.

Last Game: Arkansas State fell to Western Kentucky 106-89 on Sunday in Bowling Green, but got 32 points and 8 assists from Rudy Sims. Louisiana ran past New Orleans 65-51 behind 25 points, 19 rebounds and 6 steals from Yolanda Jones.

Coaches: ASU Brian Boyer (107-95 in 7th season), UL J. Kelley Hall (60-51 in 4th season).

Indians to Watch: No. 34 Adrianne Davie (15.0 ppg., 9.9 reb., 31 blocked shots, 27 steals), No. 3 Rudy Sims (14.1 ppg., 121 assists, 46 steals), No. 11 Amber Abraham (9.0 ppg.), No. 1 Katie Caraway (5.4 ppg.), No. 30 Ronnie Maglaughlin (14 points, 7 rebounds at WKU on Sunday).

Cajuns to Watch: No. 23 Yolanda Jones (18.5 ppg., 11.1 reb., 43 steals), No. 15 Onna Charles (10.2 ppg.), No. 20 Sonora Edwards (8.8 ppg., 7.4 reb.), No. 45 Jeanenne Colbert (9.5 ppg.), No. 21 Alicia McDaniel (4.6 ppg., 6.0 reb., 40 steals).

Ailing: ASU power forward Kelsey Locke (8.7 ppg., 6.3 reb.) is out with a knee injury. UL’s Ashley Blanche is scheduled to have her injured knee re-examined today.

Double-Double: UL’s Yolanda Jones has 13 double-doubles (points, rebounds) this season, and is averaging 18.5 points and 11.1 rebounds.

Trolling for Treys: Arkansas State’s Amber Abraham has hit 57-of-148 3-point attempts, while Rudy Sims has hit 43-of-123. UL’s leader in treys, Onna Charles, has hit 36-of-121.

Road Woes: The Indians are 8-3 at home, but 1-8 on the road and 2-3 on neutral courts this season.

Home Magic: Louisiana, which had a 22-game home win streak snapped by North Texas earlier this season, is 8-3 at Earl K. Long this year.

Originally published February 23, 2006