French's fantastic February: Jefferson post comes up big following ankle injury

Mar. 1—DELPHOS — Her coach called it "big girl basketball."

The league player of the year described it as having "her back."

But for Lauren French, it's just playing basketball the way it's meant to be played as a 6-foot-3 post player.

"I love being physical. I love playing in the paint, and you can create so much for your team and your teammates," French said.

Delphos Jefferson earned a spot in the Division III district finals at the Elida Fieldhouse at 2 p.m. Friday, going against Ottawa-Glandorf. The Wildcats topped Northwest Conference foe Allen East, 49-45, largely on the back of French's 20 points and 19 rebounds.

"Lauren just played 'big girl basketball,' and her rebounding was absolutely phenomenal tonight," Jefferson coach Denise Lindeman said after the Allen East victory. "You know, she wanted the ball, and she finished for us."

If Thursday's stats sound like a lot, don't be surprised. In the month of February, she averaged 18.2 points per game and 14.8 rebounds per game. In that same stretch, the Wildcats won seven games in a row.

She earned an all-Northwest Conference honorable mention in a season that saw her miss games in January with a sprained ankle. It took her a few games to get her footing, but she's been strong ever since. She had a 32-point, 15-rebound game against Lincolnview during the span.

Now the Wildcats (21-3) are playing with a hobbled Lyv Lindeman, the NWC player of the year, who jammed her leg after blocking a shot in the sectional championship game against Paulding. Lindeman, who signed with Tiffin University, set a school record by scoring 40 points in the regular-season win against Allen East.

"Our team's faced a lot of adversity this year," French said. "Lyv's tough, really tough, to even play on that. But just being able to be back and playing for a team that I love and who I know loves me back is amazing."

French took the pressure off Lindeman, who still scored 15 points on Thursday night.

"She kept telling me she had my back, so I had hers," Lindeman said. "Just being able to be out on that court today, I'm just so thankful and happy for her. She worked her tail off this whole season."

Now she'll face another talented big player in the middle, Ottawa-Glandorf's Katie Kaufman, a 6-foot-1 post player who earned all-Western Buckeye League first-team status. French said the Wildcats look forward to taking on the No. 3-ranked Titans, perennially one of the best teams in the state.

French showed off a variety of shots in Thursday's win, including a deceptively quick turnaround jumper, a reverse layup, and a hard-to-stop layup. She's just as comfortable dishing the ball back out to her guards if she runs into a strong defender.

But it's the rebounding that really fuels her. She has a knack for getting wherever the rebound is and thrives on getting the double-double each night.

"This might sound weird, but as soon as the ball goes up, you've got to chase it," she said. "As soon as it's released, I hit it. I want it. I'm going after it. That's my mentality."

Reach David Trinko at 567-242-0467 or on Twitter @Lima_Trinko.