Nicholas leads Rams past Country Day
Published 11:45 pm Tuesday, February 25, 2014
By RYAN ARENA
LAPLACE – JuJuan Nicholas launched a high-arcing shot just before the end of the third quarter of Monday night’s Class 1A regional round game against Country Day – and when the ball dropped through the net, the Ram fans in Edgard roared their appreciation.
That shot capped an 11-0 run, the key spurt in a 40-23 West St. John victory that saw an underdog Cajuns team keep things tight for most of the night in a defensive battle.
“The crowd definitely helped us get pumped up,” said Nicholas. “It gave us a little more confidence in ourselves to finish this.”
West St. John, Class 1A’s No. 6 seed, will travel to face No. 3 Merryville Thursday in the state quarterfinals.
Nicholas scored 18 points to lead all scorers. Teammate Jaquanna Hunter scored 12 and Maya Trench added eight for the Rams (25-4).
Tai Bierria led Country Day (16-10) with 11 points. Marissa Waguespack added seven.
The typically high-scoring Rams led just 19-16 at halftime, but Country Day tied the game at 21 on a short jumper by Bierra.
“We tried to slow the pace and we did a good job breaking the press,” said Country Day coach Lanie Griffin. “They’re a little more athletic and experienced. I thought we did a good job making them work for their shots.”
The Rams locked in. Nicholas answered Bierra’s shot with a quick runner of her own at the other end to put the Rams back ahead, and the play seemed to spark WSJ. Trench came up big next, sinking a wing 3-pointer. The Rams came up big defensively when Mychelle Lumar stole an entry pass and tossed an outlet to Trench, who found Hunter for an ‘and-one’ basket underneath. Hunter made the free throw to push the Rams ahead 29-21 with 2:49 left in the third quarter.
“We kept saying (at halftime), ‘Go hard or go home.’ It was time,” said Nicholas. “We gave all we had.”
With the lead, West St. John elected to pull the ball out and force Country Day to abandon their zone defense. Trench killed a minute of time near the end of the third before feeding Nicholas, who bombed a 3 from the corner to push the lead to 32-21 entering the fourth quarter.
“That was a big, big shot,” said West St. John coach Lester Smith.
Said Griffin, “We wanted to force them to shoot from the outside instead of beating us in the lane. We could live with (3’s), but we wanted to limit second and third chance opportunities and in the second half they got too many.”
West St. John controlled the ball for much of the fourth, the Ram ballhandlers playing keep-away from the Cajun defenders. Bierra scored on a putback with four minutes left to make it 32-23, but that was the first bucket of the quarter for either team. West St. John made eight of 11 free throws to close things out in the fourth and the Rams held Country Day to just those two points in th fourth.
“We were fouling too much in the first half,” said Nicholas.
“Once we stopped fouling so much and kept them in front of us, we were ok.”
Added Smith, “This is what we talk about, why we rely on our defense. We allowed some things we shouldn’t have early, but defense was the key for us tonight.’
“We’ve got good ballhandlers so we made them come out.”
Country Day won the rebounding battle in the first half and generated a number of second chance opportunities. That shifted in the second half, the Rams generating extra chances for themselves on the glass and by forcing quick turnovers.