The season opener for Southern and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette came with some last minute fireworks Friday night at the F.G. Clark Activity Center. Unfortunately for The Lady Jaguars, they found themselves on the wrong end of a buzzer-beater, losing 71-69.
“It’s not the loss that bothers me, it’s how we played,” said Southern coach Sandy Pugh. “ULL played well. They ran their sets, they pushed the ball and got in the lane on us all night and they killed us at the end.”
Tied at 69 with nine seconds to go in the game, Southern’s Lechell Rush turned the ball over as Pugh desperately tried to call a timeout. The ball was picked up ULL’s Byronesha Santiago, she passed it up-court to Kia Wilridge who banked in a floater just as time expired, sinking the hearts of The Lady Jags and those in attendance.
“It was kind of helter-skelter with all of these new players we have on the floor but we played a good game,” said first-year ULL Coach Garry Brodhead. “I was pleased with the effort we gave.”
Prior to the game-winning shot, Wilridge was experiencing a tough night, making only 3 of her 10 shots from the field. She finished with only nine points, but none more important than the last two.
“Kia is a warrior and she plays hard to the end,” said Brodhead.
“I always tell my team to never quit and that was a play where we easily could have quit and went to overtime but we didn’t.”
Ashley Benjamin led ULL with 19 points, while Santiago had 14 points and nine rebounds.
Adrian Sanders led Southern with 15 points but also had a game-high five turnovers. The Lady Cajuns also had outrebounded Southern 46-41.
“They had more offensive rebounds than defensive rebounds,” said Pugh. “We’re bigger than them so there is no excuse for that.”
The goal from the start for The Lady Cajuns was to work their offense through Santiago.
It was met with positive results, as the six-foot-one sophomore forward was able to get good position in the paint and scored five quick points to give ULL an early 10-7 lead.
Despite getting no baskets from heralded junior college transfer Yasmin Fuller, Southern was able to keep pace with ULL as the two teams traded baskets for most of the first half.
Down 19-15, junior guard Kendra Coleman drilled a deep three-pointer off an inbounds to pull The Lady Jags within a point. On their next trip down, Southern took its first lead of the night when Jasmine Jefferson converted a basket after fighting for a couple of rebounds.
But The Lady Cajuns answered right back as Keke Veal hit two quick buckets to ignite a 12-6 run to put ULL back up 31-26 with a little over a minute left to go in the half.
“It was important that we were able to do that,” Brodhead said of the run. “I was kind of disappointed with our defense up until that point, but we kicked it up a notch.”
A late free throw by Veal gave ULL a 32-29 halftime lead.
Veal led all scorers with 10 first half points, while Sanders went into the locker room with 7 points and 4 rebounds.
“They outplayed us,” said Pugh, “We played too much one-on-one and didn’t run our offense.”
The Lady Jaguars were able to pull even at 41 on a fast-break layup by Sanders with 15 minutes to go in the game. They later tied their biggest lead of the game when Joysin Allen went up and scored despite getting fouled.
She hit the free throw for her only three points of the game to put Southern up 48-45.
With a little over four minutes to go, it appeared that The Lady Cajuns had put the game away for good with a 10-3 run led by Benjamin to put ULL up 68-62 with a minute and a half left.
But Southern answered back with free throws from Kendra Coleman and Laneisha Stephens followed by a layup from Kendra Coleman to knot the score up at 69 and set up the final sequence.
“I have a lot of disappointed kids,” said Pugh. “But they didn’t play as if they were disappointed.”