|Updated: 1/03 10:16 pm
||Published: 1/03 10:14 pm
LITTLE ROCK – The Trojans rallied from a five-point halftime deficit to take the lead, but a late push by the Hilltoppers gave Western Kentucky (12-2, 5-0 Sun Belt) the 78-69 win over UALR (10-3, 3-2 SBC) in a crucial Sun Belt interdivisional tilt Thursday night (Jan. 3).
UALR outshot Western Kentucky 52.8 to 42.9 percent, but it was the Hilltoppers’ 35-27 edge on the boards that proved to be the difference. Western Kentucky also had an advantage on the offensive glass (12-6) and in second chance points (14-7).
Individually, UALR sophomore Kiera Clark missed only one shot from the field (9-10) while making both attempts from the charity stripe for a career-best 20 points. Junior Taylor Ford added 15 points, eight rebounds and six assists while classmate Hannah Fohne chipped in 13 points and eight boards.
For Western Kentucky, Chastity Gooch scored a game-high 23 points and recorded nine boards. However, it was only the second game in 14 attempts an opponent held her without a double-double. Alexis Govan added 18 while Micah Jones contributed 12. Bianca McGee came off the bench for 12 points and six rebounds.
As a team, Western Kentucky made 26-28 from the charity stripe for the game.
Clark scored the first eight points for the Trojans as UALR broke out to an early 8-4 advantage. WKU’s Jones hit a three-pointer at the top of the arc to cut it to one, but Fohne grabbed a senior Janette Merriex triple miss and Clark found Merriex for a three-point make for the UALR 13-7 lead six minutes into the contest.
A 9-2 run late in the second half pushed the Hilltoppers to the 34-25 lead, the largest first half-deficit the Trojans have faced all season. Gooch started the run with back-to-back lay ups followed by four-straight from the free throw line. Sophomore Taylor Gault stopped the two-minute UALR scoring drought with a lay-up, but McGee knocked down a triple to put the visitors up nine with 4:41 left until intermission. UALR cut it to three on a pair of free throws from Gault with nine seconds before half, but McGee hit a jumper at the buzzer to put Western Kentucky up 38-33 heading into the locker room.
A 5-0 spurt from Gault herself to begin the second half, capped by a three from the right free-throw line extended, tied the game only two minutes into the second half. Western Kentucky held a slim 51-48 advantage before Gault threaded the needle inside to Fohne to cut it to one. Gault stole the ball just seconds later and raced to the hoop to give UALR the 52-51 lead with 10:18 left, its first lead since the 8:23 mark of the first half.
Both teams were tied five times in the next six minutes with UALR unable to build more than a one-point lead. The Hilltoppers took a 62-59 lead before a Fohne layup and a split from the line tied the ballgame for the 11th time of the night with 3:46 left. Western Kentucky responded with a 10-0 run, thanks in part to a 6-6 stretch from the line to go up 72-62 with 46 seconds left. In the final four minutes, the Hilltoppers used a 12-12 mark from the charity stripe in claiming the 78-69 win.
UALR looks to end its two-game SBC slide Saturday (Jan. 5) when it travels to Troy, Ala. to tangle with Troy for the second time this season. UALR knocked off Troy 75-52 in Little Rock on Nov. 29, 2012.