NEW ORLEANS, LA (News Release) – The Arkansas State women’s basketball advanced to the Sun Belt Conference Championship Tournament finals after a thrilling 63-61 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette in the semifinals in New Orleans, La., at Lakefront Arena.
The victory sets up a matchup between the No. 2 Arkansas State Red Wolves and the No. 1 seeded Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans in Saturday’s championship final. The teams split the regular season series, with each team earning a victory on their home court, and this will be the first time that the teams have met in the Sun Belt Conference finals in women’s basketball. The game is set to begin at 7 p.m. and can be seen on ESPN3.com and heard locally on 95.3FM The Ticket and online at AStateRedWolves.com.
A-State led 62-61 with 40 seconds to go after Jaylyn Gordon knocked down a 3-pointer to pull UL-L within a point. Hanna Qedan drove the basket on the Red Wolves’ ensuing possession and drew a foul with nine seconds remaining on the game clock. Qedan hit the first attempt, but missed the second to put Arkansas State up two. The Ragin’ Cajuns drove the length of the floor and Gordon got off a good look, but the shot hit off the rim and fell into the waiting arms of Khadija Brown-Haywood who ran out the final seconds on the clock.
“We had a push at the right time in the second half just to come back and then get ourselves within reach and actually take a little bit of a lead,” A-State head coach Brian Boyer said. “From that point, it was just a matter of hanging on. I can’t wait to go back and watch the last five minutes. It was just a battle. I mean, how many straight back-and-forths did we have? It was almost just a matter of who was going to miss the first shot was going to be the team that comes out short.”
Friday’s game featured 18 lead changes and 10 ties throughout the night. The Red Wolves took the lead for good when 2:01 remaining when Brittney Gill followed a missed Brown-Haywood free throw attempt to put A-State ahead 59-58. The lead to grew to 62-58 with 52 seconds to go after Aundrea Gamble hit three free throws, but UL-L responded with Gordon’s 3-pointer to setup the game’s dramatic finish.
Gamble finished with just eight points, but went 3-of-4 from the free throw line to help seal the victory down the stretch for A-State. Brown-Haywood and Jasmine Hunt led the Red Wolves with 15 points each, while Gill finished with 10 points, six of which came in the second half. Hunt also grabbed nine rebounds on the evening to help A-State win the rebounding edge 33-19.
The two teams went into the halftime break tied at 30-30, but Louisiana-Lafayette went on a 9-0 run to open up a 39-30 lead with 17:14 to go in the game, forcing Boyer to take a timeout before the first media break.
The Red Wolves responded with a 14-0 run of their own to go up 44-39 with 11:57 to go. The Red Wolves defense was outstanding during the run and held the Ragin’ Cajuns scoreless for five-plus minutes and got stops on seven straight possessions. Brown-Haywood erased the Ragin’ Cajuns lead with a pair of free throws at the 13:29 mark and the Red Wolves held their largest lead of the game at 46-41 with 10:51 to go.
It would not last however, as UL-L responded with a 6-0 run to go up 47-46 to begin a span of five straight offensive possessions where the lead changed sides. After leading by nine early in the half, UL-L never led by more than two points for the remainder of the game and was plagued by foul trouble late in the game.
“Well, we’re obviously relieved to get the win – a win against a very good, very talented [UL] Lafayette team,” Boyer said. “It’s a credit to how good this league is this year. Lafayette is every bit of good as anybody in the league, and so is Troy, and you go across the board. What a great [women’s basketball] season we’ve had in the Sun Belt and that’s a credit to that.”
The first half was an evenly matched contest that featured 11 lead changes and five ties. The Red Wolves led for 10:57 during the half, but never held a lead greater than four points at any point during that span. Each team shot over 45 percent from the field, but UL-L did most of its damage where it scored 24 of its 30 points.
A-State relied on shooting from just outside the paint and good contributions from Jamie Ruffins who went 4-of-4 from the free throw line. Brown-Haywood was also 3-of-5 from field, while Hunt hurt the Ragin’ Cajuns with second chance opportunities on the offensive glass.
This will be the fifth meeting all-time between an Arkansas State and a UALR team has met in a Sun Belt Conference Championship final. The four previous meeting all occurred throughout the mid-90s in volleyball with A-State taking three of the four matchups.
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