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Traveling to Denham Springs

Lady Cats one win away from Marsh Madness
Thursday, February 22, 2024
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Ruston’s Ella Kate Jones (11) powers up in the paint against Natchitoches-Central in the regional round. Ruston travels to Denham Springs tonight in the quarterfinals. Photo by Josh McDaniel

If styles make fights, consider the No. 7 seeded Ruston Lady Bearcats (25-7) equipped to handle the approach of No. 2 Denham Springs (27-4) in tonight’s Division I Non-select quarterfinal matchup.

In an emotional 50-48 comeback victory over No. 10 Natchitoches-Central on Monday, Ruston once again delivered a defensive gem when it needed it most to erase a double-digit deficit and move one step closer to making the state tournament. After the Chiefs came out red-hot from three for most of the first half and early in the third, Ruston held Natchitoches-Central scoreless for over six minutes in the second half and just five points in the fourth.

NCHS finished 31.5% (6-of-19) from three and finished with more turnovers (16) than two-point field goals (13).

If Ruston defends like it has for its two playoff wins, and much of its 10-game win streak, head coach Meredith Graf likes her group’s chances to pull off the upset over Denham Springs.

“They live and die by the three. It’s one of those things where if one gets hot, they all do,” Graf said of Denham Springs. “I like our matchup size wise, which when you get this late in the playoffs that’s something I figured we’d have a problem with more I truly think our style of play can create problems for them. But really, the scouting report is everybody’s a shooter. There’s not a lot of variety on their team like most teams have. And to have that as a strength where anybody can knock down a three is quite a quality and it’s not a knock on them by any means. It’s just different. It’s going to come down can we defend at a high level and not give them open shots.”

But if the last 10 games are any indication, Ruston is more than ready for this fight and the incoming three-point barrage of Denham Springs — the team has shown it can flat out limit opponents from doing much damage beyond the arc.

Over the last 10 games, Ruston’s opponents have shot 29.5% from the field, 21.9% from three, while averaging 26 turnovers per game. In two postseason wins, Ruston has held Natchitoches-Central and West Monroe to a combined 8-of-28 (28.5%) from three.

Graf said NCHS was capable of making threes but had an identity built around getting the ball inside first and driving, rather than solely hunting for outside shots. The opposite is true for Denham Springs, who doesn’t want much more than to shoot its opponents out of a game according to Graf.

And while the threat of a lightsout opponent is nothing to brush past, Graf said it could play to Ruston’s advantage that the priority on defense is to stop one area, rather than multiple attack patterns on offense.

“They’re a quality team for sure,” Graf said. “I’m impressed with their ball movement, and they do a really good job of making the extra pass and you can tell they’ve played together for a long time. There’s sense of comfort amongst their group and they play between seven to eight consistently. To be honest, I can count on one hand the amount of times they intentionally drive to the basket and I’ve watched four games of them.”

Ruston and Denham Springs face off tonight at 5:30 p.m., with the winner advancing to the LHSAA State Basketball Tournament in Hammond.