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John Curtis Christian girls back on title track with latest championship win: Buck's Ballpark

Lady Patriots win Division I select crown after having six-year title streak stopped last season

HAMMOND, LOUISIANA - When the buzzer sounded in Saturday’s Division I select championship game, there wasn’t the usual celebrating you might see in a game of this magnitude. 

No players dogpiling onto one another. No abundant high fives. No vociferous yells or screams.

Instead, John Curtis Christian players were more businesslike in their approach. A few hugs, a few handshakes. It felt like another day at the office, and when you’ve won state titles like the Lady Patriots have won over the past several years, winning state is all they’ve been conditioned to do.

But make no mistake, the players and coach Alendra Brown were definitely enthusiastic about their latest title triumph, beating Woodlawn-Baton Rouge, 60-46, Saturday afternoon at the University Center. That’s because they didn’t get this title celebration nearly a year ago on the same court.

John Curtis Christian defeats Woodlawn-Baton Rouge: Live updates, score of Louisiana (LHSAA) girls basketball Division I select state championship (3/2/2024)

Then, John Curtis’ run of six straight state titles was snapped in stunning fashion by Lafayette High. So, the Lady Patriots were more than determined to get their title train back on track.

“I am so excited,” John Curtis coach Alendra Brown said. “That taste from last year, it was a bad taste. We didn’t want to feel that again; we all had that on our minds.

“All of us returned from last year, so to finally get it this year, and we don’t take it for granted because it’s not easy getting here and we’ve put in all the work and we finally got it, so we are excited and we’re blessed and humbled.”

John Curtis led from start to finish, scoring the game’s first six points and building a nine-point lead by the end of the first quarter. They still led by nine at halftime (26-17) before gradually getting up into double digits, leading by 15, 39-24, late in the third after eighth-grader Jayla Albert knocked down a 3-pointer.

Woodlawn-Baton Rouge, which stunned top-seeded Huntington in Thursday’s semifinal, made a couple of fourth-quarter runs, getting as close as seven twice. The Lady Panthers then had the ball with a chance to put even more pressure on the Lady Patriots.

But they failed to capitalize on that possession, and John Curtis hit a couple of key shots, including another Daniel 3 with 1:10 left to put the Lady Patriots up by 11, 54-43.

And the celebration was on. Even if the Lady Patriots didn’t outwardly express it.

John Curtis Christian players Imani Daniel (left) and Chikae Desdunes talk in the postgame press conference following the Lady Patriots' Division I select title win March 2, 2024.

John Curtis Christian players Imani Daniel (left) and Chikae Desdunes talk in the postgame press conference following the Lady Patriots' Division I select title win March 2, 2024.

One player, though, who was definitely overjoyed was sophomore point guard Ke’Sonja Nelson, who attended Saturday’s postgame press conference with Brown and a couple of teammates.

“I feel good because last season, it was real personal for me because I only got to play five games and the last game we ended up losing,” Nelson said. “I’m glad that this year we came back and picked it up like we are supposed to because we’re a young team and everyone was doubting us, so we showed everybody that we could win.”

Brown remarked that defense helped fuel the good start her team had in Saturday’s win.

“I felt like we came out from the start and played great on defense. … Our girls knew their assignments, they knew what to do, they knew where to go and they communicated to each other and I had seen that a lot of times,” she said. “They knew who was on the ball all day, knew who was on help-side and if they wasn’t, they communicated and got there, and they finished with the box-out.”

Brown’s players also agreed that defense helped set the tone early on.

“We all talked about 50/50 balls this year, so we mostly just tried to control what we can control,” said John Curtis junior guard Imani Daniel, who had a double-double of 17 points and 10 rebounds. “We had a lot of fouls, so we just had to slow down on the fouls, slow our defense down, slow our offense down and just take control of the game.”

Daniel also singled out Nelson for her defense, especially having to guard Woodlawn junior standout Amijah Price, who had 33 in the win against Huntington. Price still got 19 points to go along with 10 rebounds, but scored in single digits in the first half.

“I feel like she’s one of the most underrated players in the state, guarding (Lafayette Christian senior standout and LSU signee) Jada Richard and probably one of the best players that guarded her, and then Amijah Price, who didn’t have her best game (Saturday),” Daniel said of Nelson, who finished with six points and six rebounds. “Everybody, she shuts everybody down for the most part and she also plays point guard, she gets everybody involved and she keeps us settled down, she talks to us on the court and she’s a player you want on your team.”

The Lady Patriots - Brown in particular - also emphasized a team approach to finally regain a title trophy. In Saturday’s win, six players scored by halftime, with Albert the leading scorer with seven points.

Albert ended up leading all scorers with 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting, along with making three 3’s and grabbing nine rebounds.

“It’s a team sport,” Brown said. “One thing that is good about our girls is that every time we have five girls on the court, everyone is a threat.

“Everyone can score, we don’t rely on isolation for any of our offenses and it shows, like Chikae (Desdunes, a sophomore guard) scored a lot the last game and another person this game, that’s because the open person shot. We kept passing the ball and we got the one shot, so it’s a team sport.”

And with their latest title, their 10th, the Lady Patriots added to the school’s title total with 84.

Even in the afterglow of their latest championship victory, the Lady Patriots were already looking ahead to next season. That’s just the standard being set at a place like John Curtis Christian.

“It feels great, but to be honest, I’m not a senior yet, so it’s like you’ve just got to come back and do the same thing over again for next year,” Desdunes said.

Photo (from left) of John Curtis Christian coach Alendra Brown and players Ke'Sonja Nelson, Imani Daniel and Chikae Desdunes 

-- Buck Ringgold | | @SBLiveLA