Freshman guard, new coach keep Louisiana going strong
Freshman Derek Richards, shown driving to the basket against Palmyra's Tanner Nix, has made 80 3-pointers this season and helped Louisiana to a 17-7 record and a No. 1 seed in the district tournament. | H-W File Photo/Phil Carlson
LOUISIANA, Mo. -- The Louisiana boys basketball team doesn't know how to quit.
Even when trailing by 25 points in the second half, the Bulldogs won't go down without a fight. Louisiana recently found itself in that position against Palmyra, trimming the deficit to four points before eventually losing.The Bulldogs were Clarence Cannon Conference champs last year and tied Clark County for the crown this year, so they expect to get their opponents' best shots. But they'll give their best shot right back."We know we have a target on our back," senior guard Zach Richardson said. "People are out to beat us."Not even a coaching change has altered Louisiana's goals this season.After serving as an assistant for former coach Derrick Bran-stetter for three seasons, coach Matt Smith slid over on the bench this season. Branstetter spent eight years as the boys basketball coach before resigning after being hired as the principal at Louisiana High School.The transition for Smith and the Bulldogs has been seamless."The kids are familiar with my voice," Smith said. "It wasn't a new adjustment for them. The biggest thing is we run a lot more ball screens this year."Having talent to win games helped the process, too.Freshman guard Derek Richards and Richardson have led the Bulldogs in scoring throughout the season by averaging 17.4 and 14.7 points per game, respectively. They do it in different ways. Richards is Louisiana's primary perimeter threat, making 80 3-pointers and shooting 47 percent from beyond the arc. Richardson does his work from inside the 3-point line, shooting 55 percent on 2-point shots and is a 65 percent free-throw shooter.They led Louisiana to an 11-1 start to the season, and the Bulldogs won their first six CCC games before falling to Palmyra. Louisiana captured the top-seed in the Class 2 District 5 tournament at Monroe City and currently sits at 17-7. Louisiana will face eighth-seeded Sturgeon (6-16) in the first round at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.Add Michael Francis (8.0 ppg) and P.J. Francis (6.5 ppg), and the Bulldogs have several scoring options."There's a lot of unselfish guys on this team," Smith said. "Everybody accepts their roles. There's a good mixture of young and experienced guys."Even in the loss to Palmyra, the second-half rally was proof Louisiana can compete with anyone."We can play and play that way," Richardson said. "We just have to do that from the start. We can't just pick and choose when we do that."Consistent starts will be key for Louisiana throughout the postseason."At times, we play quick and we aren't good at it," Richards said. "But other times we'll play quick and be good at it. That's when we just go."But no matter how the Bulldogs start, they aren't going to quit.