By T. Scott Boatright
Ruston took charge from the opening seconds and never looked back Thursday night as the fifth-seeded Lady Bearcats roared past Woodlawn-Baton Rouge 54-12 in Class 5A girls basketball opening round action at the RHS Main Gym.
“Anytime it’s a playoff game you treat it with the same respect no matter who your opponent is or what their record is,” said Lady Bearcats coach Meredith Graf. “I’m proud of how we came out and competed. We worked on some things I think we needed to, and to go in and play like that, respond and run with a ‘who’s next?’ mentality — I’m very proud of the effort from the entire team.”
It was the Lady Bearcats’ pressure defense blitzing Woodlawn from the get go that allowed Ruston to hold the Lady Panthers scoreless for the opening 12:45. Woodlawn’s first basket didn’t come until Reagan McDowell’s putback cut the RHS advantage to 30-2 with 3:25 remaining in the first half.
While Graf was proud of her team’s effort, she said it wasn’t that her Lady Bearcats were trying to smother the Lady Panthers defensively, even with a 38-5 halftime lead.
“I don’t look at it from that standpoint as I do it being about individual players and team strategy and how well we executed,” Graf said. “That’s more important to me than when they scored, or whatever. You just compete, do your job and whenever they happen to score, they happen to score.”
The effort from the Lady Bearcats was a pure team effort, with Jaliyah McWain leading the way with 10 points, Zaccheya Jackson adding nine, Emerald Parker hitting for eight, Alexis Foster chipping in with seven and Cassanda Evans, Kemiah Spencer, Mairah Hintze and Kiersynche McNeal totaling four points each.
But Ruston’s players did seem to take turns going on streaks. All of Spencer’s scoring came in the first quarter. All of Foster’s points came in the second quarter, and eight of Jackson’s nine points came in the first half.
McWain played a balanced game, scoring six in each half. But she also hit three straight shots on consecutive possessions in the third stanza.
Graf said that wasn’t a plan but simply the way this year’s Lady Bearcats squad plays.
“It’s not really planned, it’s more from a standpoint of you try to execute and know what you’re looking for,” Graf said. “And whoever’s the byproduct of it, if we’re doing our job, gets it done. We’re all going to take turns. It’s not like we’re running the play for so and so. That never happens.
“Now if there’s a matchup we like where we can pick on somebody or if someone gets hot, we’ll take advantage of it. That’s why it’s hard to play us. I feel for people in that manner, because it’s just tough. But it’s not a strategy. It’s just about executing and doing your job. That’s really it.”
Next up for the Lady Bearcats will be District 2-5A foe West Ouachita, which was the 19th seed and went on the road to defeat 12th-seeded Benton.
“District opponent — that’s a big win for them to pull that out,” Graf said of the Lady Chiefs’ win. “Playing at Benton like that, I don’t care who that is, Benton is always a quality team and tough to beat. It’s a compliment to West Ouachita for them being able to go in and perform.
“But it still boils down to the same thing — you do what you need to do to prepare. I told my kids that I don’t care who we play, we’re going to prepare the same way. You respect your opponent, you study up and you go out and try to beat them.”
Ruston will play at West Ouachita on Monday night in second-round action.
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