February starts with a bang for the strong Ruston High School basketball teams, who play at home twice this week.
While Friday’s showdown with Ouachita is the featured attraction for Ryan Bond’s Bearcats, Meredith Graf’s Lady Bearcats have two tremendously impactful home games in the District 2-5A championship race.
Ruston hosts Pineville Tuesday and Ouachita Friday in doubleheaders. The girls games start at 5:30 with the boys tipping at 7. Capacity, due to Covid-19 restrictions, is 400 people, but that’s been met just once so far, in an earlier matchup with Arcadia’s Hornets.
It could happen again Friday, based on the quality of both the boys and girls contests against the OHS Lions. Tickets for all RHS games are available at the gym door.
Both Ruston teams are on the rise after missing the playoffs last season. For the boys, this year’s senior class is trending toward the Bearcats’ first postseason in their careers, bringing a 14-4 overall record (2-3 in rugged 2-5A) into Tuesday’s Pineville game and coming off a near miss of an upset at defending Class 5A state champion Alexandria Senior High on Friday night.
“I am pleased overall with the progress we’re making, but these moral victories, I’m tired of them,” said Bond, the former LA Tech postman in his second season after a successful run at nearby Weston High, his alma mater. “We have had our chances to get big wins before the ASH game, but Friday night, we were just 8 of 20 at the free throw line, missed layups, and committed turnovers late in the game that gave them the winning points.
“We lost at Ouachita by six, and had 25 turnovers, without one of our better players in the game. We had personnel issues at home against West Monroe and more turnover problems, and lost by five to another extremely strong team. The losses stick with you.”
Cleaning up the turnovers, making a better share of layups and free throws, and running offensive sets to precision are keys for the Bearcats this month. Bond looks to senior guards Markel Jones, the leading scorer, and aspiring coach Josh Dean (“he plays his guts out,” said Bond) to set the tone. Rollin Belton, a 6-7 senior center, will sign Wednesday to play collegiately at Marist.
The Lady Bearcats (18-6 overall, 4-1 in district) are 9th in the state GeauxPreps.com power rankings. Pineville is 10th and Ouachita is No. 11.
Graf, who as a senior guard helped Brooke Stoehr’s first Northwestern State team into the NCAA Tournament, is in her third year as head coach and fourth year on staff at RHS. Hers is a defensive-oriented club that relies on everybody contributing.
“We are defined by our halfcourt man-to-man defense,” she said. “In our big games, we’ve succeeded when we’ve gotten big stops consistently.”
Her keys to this week’s battles: “Possession basketball, getting stops; limiting unforced, silly turnovers; and we’ll need to hit outside shots to open up our inside game.”
Encouraging note: “We have shot well at home.”
PHOTO: Ruston High School