After a fantastic January that saw the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns women’s basketball team go 6–2, capped off with last week’s road trip wins over Georgia Southern and Appalachian State, the team returned to the Cajundome to begin a short home stand, starting with a matchup with the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks on Thursday, Feb. 2.
The Warhawks had a rough first half of conference play this season, going 3–7 in those games for a 7–14 overall record. Their starting lineup averages 48.9% true shooting, which isn’t very far from the Cajuns’ 49.15%, but the other gaps in these team’s abilities quickly came to bear in this game.
After taking a 16–10 lead in the second quarter, the Cajuns’ offense would go cold for the last several minutes of the half, and the defense would give up back-to-back scores to ULM guard Olivia Knight in the last minute to enter halftime down 20–24. Then, to start the fourth, a burst of scoring, punctuated by a huge steal and and-one courtesy of freshman guard Alicia Blanton, helped the Cajuns pull away and win 66–58.
The Cajuns outworked the opposition pretty handily in this game, scoring 23 points off 24Warhawks turnovers, and 24 points on fast breaks. The Warhawks’ 10 points off just 12 Cajuns turnovers paled in comparison.
Blanton led all players in scoring with 15 points on 5–7 from the field and 5–5 from the free-throw-line. Tamera Johnson, Nubia Benedith and Destiny Rice also managed double-digit scoring. Johnson’s efforts on the boards were extremely valuable, as her nine accounted for nearly a third of the Cajuns’ production on that end.
The Warhawks’ 42–30 advantage, generated by the size of their lineup, gave them a chance to win for most of the game. As previously mentioned, though, the effort of the Cajuns shone through, allowing only eight second chance points despite being outrebounded.
Then, on Saturday, the Cajuns had to face the best team in the Sun Belt, the 14–8 Troy Trojans. This was truly an opponent worthy of the moment: just a week prior, these Trojans had eviscerated the 15–6 Georgia Southern Eagles 100–77. A win here would pull the Cajuns level with the Trojans at the top of the conference standings.
The Trojans’ superior outside shooting helped them start to pull away from the Cajuns midway through the second quarter, and by halftime their lead stood at 37– 29. This 8-or-more point cushion would hold for most of the fourth quarter until the game’s 37th minute, at which point an inexplicable series of turnovers and tough shots set up a Sherry Porter 3-pointer to tie the game for Louisiana with one second remaining.
The Cajuns looked to be headed for a win in overtime as a Destiny Rice and-one put the team up 77–73, but Troy’s Makayia Hallmon made a clutch three and Tai’Sheka Porchia drained the go-ahead basket with one second left to steal the win 81–80.
Johnson led scoring in this one, with 23 points on 9–11 from the field, seven rebounds and five steals. Freshman Jaylyn James was instrumental in the Cajuns comeback with 12 points on 68.7% effective field goal rate in just 20 minutes.
Even though they fell short in the end, the Cajuns are still in prime position to take the lead in the conference. If they can go 3–1 in the upcoming road trip (as they are expected to based on point differential), the team could well claim that coveted #1 seed yet.