Last season the Ragin' Cajuns women's basketball team made the deepest run in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament since the 2007 season, winning three straight games to make it to the championship game.

Although the Cajuns fell to Troy in the championship game, putting their final record at 20-11, they finished off their season with a run to remember and it means they enter the 2017-18 season with high expectations for themselves as they'll look to maintain the success that they've had over the past three seasons.

"Our expectations are high for this season," said head coach Garry Brodhead. "We've got four seniors playing at a high level and they all got the chance to play in the conference tournament last season, which can only help us this season."

Picked fourth to finish in the SBC this season, the Cajuns have four seniors, Simone Fields, Troi Swain, Nekia Jones and Kendra Howard, and they'll look to help Louisiana win at least 20 games for the fourth season in a row.

Three of those women played heavy minutes last season all making an impact, while Howard sat out due to the NCAA transfer rule but she's looking to take the court and help Louisiana through the season.

The four seniors are joined by junior transfer Brooke Jolivette, sophomores Kimberly Burton, Jasmine Thomas, Malachi-Seraphin Williams and Brittney Myles. Redshirt freshman Danyale Bayonne returns from an ACL injury suffered in the previous season and she's joined by fellow freshman Ty'Reonne Doucet, Jomyra Mathis, Skyler Goodwin and Mylisha Hammond making up a deep Cajuns squad in both the front and backcourts.

The Cajuns open their regular season on Friday, Nov. 10, by hosting New Orleans in the first round of the Preseason Women's National Invitation Tournament. A win in that first-round matchup means a trip to either Houston or Texas A&M on Sunday, Nov. 12 for the second round. If the Cajuns stay on the winning streak the semifinals are scheduled for Nov. 16 with the finals slatted for Nov. 19.

Another trip the Cajuns are making, all before December, is to Las Vegas, Nev., for the South Point Thanksgiving Shootout where they'll face Niagara on Nov. 25 and Cleveland State on Nov. 26. The trip is the furthest west the Cajuns have gone since heading to the 2004 Great Alaska Shootout in Anchorage, Alaska.

Louisiana's tough road ahead in the non-conference portion of their schedule doesn't end there, as they've taken up the challenge of facing three SEC teams, including making a trip to Jackson, Miss., to face the national runners-up Mississippi State Bulldogs on Nov. 29.

They follow that up by hosting the Auburn Tigers at the Cajundome, on Dec. 8, before heading east to Baton Rouge, on Dec. 17, to face their in-state rival LSU Tigers for the first time since 2007.

"You always make a schedule according to the team that you have coming back from the previous season," said Brodhead. "And I think that if we're going to compete for a conference championship, we need to play against some of the opponents that we're facing in our non-conference schedule to prepare our women for the season."

Louisiana then opens up their conference schedule on Dec. 29 with a trip to Little Rock, and they'll return to Lafayette to open their home portion of their conference schedule against Appalachian State on Jan. 4 as they plunge into what should be a tough conference season.

But the team should be battle tested and their toughness will be on display thanks to the non-conference slate they'll just have finished.

What makes this a strong team is the leadership and experience that the Cajuns have in the frontcourt and that's an asset that coach Brodhead is excited about, since it means teams can't take advantage of the inexperience the Cajuns have in the backcourt as those young guards grow through the season.

"The experience we have can help the younger kids to learn the system," said Brodhead. "And that's something I don't think we've ever had before, since we've always been on the younger side relying on the coaches to be the leadership.

"But now we've got the leadership to help us get over the hump. And I've always said a player coached team is a lot better than a coach, coached team."

The younger players have learned through the preseason, that coach Brodhead expects his women to be a team of tough nosed defenders who are willing to take charges and play a fast-paced and disciplined style of basketball.

"We still have the same philosophy we've always had and taught, especially defensively," said Brodhead. "We want to come out and guard while putting pressure on the ball. To get this done we do a lot of drill work on the defensive side, working to get our women ready to play our style of defense.

"We put ourselves in position to take charges by guarding and it's the consistent drilling in practice that gets our teams ready to handle that. You've got to get the kids to believe in the system, and we've done a good job of building a system that works and that wins.

"They believe in it and the women know that it's what they need to do so that we can go out and win championships."

One thing the Cajuns have this season, which they might not have had in previous seasons is a strong post presence. And that's because Fields, a SBC Preseason All-Conference First Team member, is a force that teams must defend. But she's not alone as the Cajuns have experience and strength down low that will allow them to play inside-out this season.

"I think this is the strongest post presence that we've had since I've been here," said Brodhead. "And when you can play inside-out like we can, it creates more offense for us. Teams are forced to double team us down low and it gives us open looks and we should get more dribble penetration from our guards."

Louisiana has a tough road ahead, as they navigate their non-conference portion of the schedule, but that can only suit them positively as they prepare themselves to take on a tough conference this season.

But with the post presence they have, and the talented shooters surrounding the perimeter the Cajuns have a lot to be excited about for the 2017-18 season as they go on the hunt for a conference title and a berth into the big dance at the end of the season.