Frierson helps cheer La. Tech past MSU, prep rival Thomas

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 8, 2000

RUSTON, La. Four years of high school and one year of college later, Catrina Frierson’s team finally got the best of LaToya Thomas.

And she had to watch it from the bench.

Ten weeks after tearing three ligaments in a season-ending knee injury, Frierson’s Lady Techsters (7-2) beat No. 14 Mississippi State, 83-65.

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The game also reunited Frierson with former teammate Cynthia Hall, a senior point guard for the Lady Bulldogs (4-2), who upset Tech last year in Starkville.

Hall struggled with just four points. Much of that can be attributed to the defense of Essence Perry.

“I told her before the game that (Hall) would be one of the quickest guards she’d play all year,” said veteran Lady Techsters coach Leon Barmore. “(Hall) is pretty darn quick.”

Tech’s defense also held Thomas, who averages more than 26 points per game, to 14 before fouling out in the fourth quarter. Thomas picked up her fourth foul with 10 minutes left in the second half.

After sitting for four minutes, she returned and was whistled for her fifth foul with 5:36 left in the game.

“They took Toya out of it mentally,” MSU coach Sharon Fanning said, adding trying to win at Tech, which had a crowd of more than 4,000, is a lot different than playing in Starkville. “The atmosphere makes them very confident here.”

The biggest cheer from the arena came from Frierson, who battled Thomas relentlessly through high school, then last year in Starkville.

The standout sophomore, who starred at Vicksburg High, has been relegated to cheerleader, a role she embraces.

“My role now is to motivate my team,” said Frierson, who danced, pumped her fists and hugged her teammates throughout the game. “That’s just me. I believe motivation is everything.”

Frierson’s motivation in returning to the court is way ahead of schedule, Barmore said. Originally, she was expected to be out six to eight months, but Barmore said at the first of the year, they will evaluate her to see if she can return.

“I don’t want to play,” Frierson said. “Well, I want to play, but I don’t want anything to happen again.”

Frierson, who was granted a medical redshirt, will have three years of eligibility left after this season. She injured her knee during a pickup game in September.

“That was such a major loss for us,” Barmore said. “We lost so much offensively and so much toughness with her. We lost the scoring, the rebounding and the intensity in which she plays.”

She remembers planting her left leg and then felt it go out.

“I remember the pain the most,” said Frierson, who rehabs four times a week and shoots every day. “Everyone in the gym heard it pop.”

On the sidelines, she showed few effects of the injury, urging an offensively struggling team coming off a 19-point loss to Houston to victory.

“She is the biggest cheerleader we have,” Barmore said. “She comes in and is so happy when the team wins. That’s a team attitude right there.”

Starkville native Kenya Bibbs came off the bench to score 20 points and Amber Obaze pitched in 17 and grabbed seven rebounds.

“Obaze was the player of the game,” said Barmore, who put the 5-foot-9 freshman from Dallas defensively against Thomas. “She guarded Thomas for about 17 minutes in the first half very well.”

Ayana Walker grabbed eight rebounds and scored 12 points and Takeisha Lewis had seven rebounds as the 12th-ranked Lady Techsters outrebounded State, 46-24.

“In the paint, rebounding, free throws and turnovers they beat us in everything,” Fanning said. “We’ve got to get more physical.”

Jennifer Fambrough scored a game-high 21 points for State, while Meadow Overstreet netted 19, including five 3-pointers. Hall was held to four points and three assists.

“We just lost a little focus, I think,” Hall said.

Tech opened with an 11-4 lead and never trailed. The Lady Bulldogs fell behind 41-32 at the half before opening the second half on a 10-4 run to pull to within three, 45-42, with 18 minutes left in the game.

State made it 55-51 six minutes later, but Thomas was soon whistled for her fourth foul.

“We planned to go to her,” Barmore said. “We ran a couple different sets early and offensively we tried to make her guard us.”

When Thomas returned, Tech held a 67-60 lead before going on a 7-1 run after she fouled out.

The Lady Techsters were never threatened again.

Hall and Frierson played on the 1996-97 Vicksburg High team that came two points from winning the Class 5A state championship.

Frierson hugged Hall after the game and talked for some time.

“We’re still cool,” Frierson said with a chuckle.

State will host Louisiana-Lafayette on Dec. 16, while Tech plays host to No. 2 Tennessee on Sunday.

“They’re going to bring the biggest team in the world in here,” Barmore said of the Lady Vols. “There are two programs Tennessee and Connecticut who are head and shoulders above everyone else. Then there’s about 15 teams right below them. I think we could be one of those 15 at the end of the year.”