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Women’s Basketball: UL women capture first postseason win

Kevin Foote, The Advertiser, March 20, 2015



 UL’s Keke Veal, left, goes to the basket as Texas-Pan American’s Rickell Preston defends during the Cajuns’ historic postseason victory Thursday at Earl K. Long Gym.(Photo: Leslie Westbrook/The Advertiser)


PHOTO GALLERY:  Women’s Basketball Invitational UL vs. UTPA


Sometimes to achieve something historic, it takes more than a ho-hum effort.

During the first half of Thursday’s Women’s Basketball Invitational first-round showdown with Texas-Arlington at E.K. Long Gym on the UL campus, coach Garry Brodhead’s Ragin’ Cajuns struggled their way to a 27-25 halftime deficit.

Still trailing 43-40 with 11:33 left to play, however, the Cajuns began a hot streak for the ages, quickly transforming a potential lackluster performance headed for a photo finish into a special stretch run that produced a memorable 78-56 blowout victory.

Not only did the victory earn the program’s first NCAA postseason victory, it also nailed down the fourth 20-win season and gave Brodhead his 44th win in his first three years. That surpassed Ross Cook and J. Kelley Hall, who both had 43 wins in their first three seasons.

On the court, the win propelled UL in the WBI second round where it will host McNeese State at 7 p.m. Saturday at E.K. Long Gym, which was packed with 1,059 fans in Thursday’s win.

"I’ve been following this program for a long time," Brodhead said. "I always felt there was a way to build it. Credit (UL athletic director) Scott Farmer for hiring a crazy high school coach who is actually crazy.

"I’m just so happy for the kids to see them able to accomplish winning 20 games. It is so big for us. We still have a lot of work to do, but it’s a start."

On Thursday, it was actually the finish that did in the visiting Broncos, who enjoyed their first-ever winning season and were also trying to nail down their first postseason win.

UTPA (19-15) actually led by as much as six points in the first half and held a pair of five-point leads in the second half. Brittany Bush had a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds in the first half, but then was limited to totals of 12 points and 11 rebounds by the game’s end.

"We just did a better job of denying her on the block and doubling from the weak side," Brodhead said.

Offensively, the Cajuns went into the half with 10 turnovers and only shooting 31 percent from the field.

"We hadn’t played in almost a week," said junior guard Keke Veal, who finished with 12 points, four rebounds and five assists. "We needed a little boost (at half) and we came out and busted it up."

Initially in the second half, the Broncos threatened to keep control with four jump shots in the first 4:27 of the second half to build a 36-31 lead.

At the time, UL’s guards still weren’t clicking like they were in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament.

Keeping the Cajuns’ offense afloat was the inside game of Simone Fields, who finished with 14 points and three rebounds, as well as Adrienne Prejean, who contributed eight points when UL needed it most to go along with nine rebounds and two steals.

"We hadn’t played a game in E.K. Long since the (Louisiana) Tech game," said Kia Wilridge, who finished with 18 points, five rebounds and four steals after only scoring six in the first half. "We had to get used to the environment. It was loud. It was hard to hear. We were like, ‘What, what, what?’ We had to come up with hand signals."

Whatever it was, it worked like a dream.

When UL’s guards finally got rolling, the Broncos had no answer. From the 11:33 mark until the final buzzer, the Cajuns outscored UTPA 38-13. UL ended up shooting 50.9 percent from the field and 85.7 percent at the free throw line.

"They shot 70 percent (71.4) in the second half," UTPA coach Larry Tidwell said. "That’s pretty hard to stop. You’ve got to compliment them for stepping up and making shots. You make shots and a lot of good things are going to happen."

It was actually a 3-pointer by Robbie Brown that got the big run ignited and then UL’s trademark defense stepped up with numerous turnovers, producing transition baskets that weren’t coming in the first half.

A Wilridge three-point play made it 59-52 at 6:18 and then a Jaylyn Gordon 3-pointer got it up to 64-52 at 5:03. UTPA had no answer.

In fact, by the time Tonisha Walker hit a pair of free throws with 2:29 left, the Cajuns had built a 70-52 lead.

"We always talked about leaving a legacy," Veal said. "That’s what we’re doing."