UALR Women’s Basketball Wins Sun Belt Championship

Sports
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ARLINGTON, TX – With Arkansas State’s loss at Texas State earlier in the day Saturday, the UALR women’s basketball team clinched at least a share of the Sun Belt regular-season championship for the third time in school history without even having to play.
But these Trojans wanted more than a share. They wanted the whole thing.

UALR defeated UT Arlington 48-38 at College Park Center on Saturday evening, winning the Sun Belt regular-season championship outright for the first time in school history and earning the conference tournament’s top seed.

“It’s always awesome when you win a championship,” UALR coach Joe Foley said. “It means your kids have really done a good job and worked hard. We’ve pushed this bunch extremely hard. They had to do it with their defense, and that’s tough. They’ve fought with a lot of heart, a lot of class, and I’ve enjoyed coaching them.”
The Trojans shared a league regular-season title in 2010 and 2011, but this is the team’s first time ever claiming the championship all alone.

Saturday’s result – and the league title – was in doubt until the final minutes. The Trojans had led by as many as 12 points early in the second half, but the Mavericks’ defense halted the Trojans’ scoring after that while they slowly got back into the game. UALR’s lead was 41-38 with 5:16 to play, and the team had made just one field goal in the previous eight minutes.

But from there, the Trojans’ defense took over. The Mavericks missed their last five field-goal attempts and committed three turnovers in the last five minutes while UALR got four free throws from Taylor Gault and an unlikely swish of a 3-pointer from Shanity James – her second of the night. That 7-0 run over the final five minutes sealed the game and the league championship
“UTA didn’t score for about four or five possessions,” Foley said. “We took a timeout, and we had to challenge [our players]. We said, ‘Hey guys, we’ve got to get some stops. Get yourselves a breather. We’ve got to get some stops.’ That’s exactly what they did. That exemplifies our season right there.”

The Trojans (24-4, 17-2 Sun Belt) were led in scoring by 12 points each from Ka’Nesheia Cobbins and James. James got 6 of her points on two 3-pointers, just the second and third 3-pointers of her three-year UALR career. UT Arlington (15-12, 9-9) got a double-double from Rebekah Van Dijk, but that was not enough as the UALR defense held the Mavs under 40 points for the second time this season.

Alexius Dawn led UALR with five assists, while Cobbins had four and Gault had three. Clark and James had two blocks apiece, while Cobbins and Kaitlyn Pratt topped the Trojans with three steals each.

The win also gives UALR a sweep in the regular-season series against UTA and ties the school record with 17 conference wins. The Trojans have reached 24 wins overall for the first time since 2012-13 and have won four in a row against the Mavericks.

The Mavericks had a good offensive start to the day, scoring 8 points in the first four minutes. But over the next four, UTA was unable to get a point on the board as UALR forced turnovers and built a 13-8 lead heading into the second media timeout.

The Mavericks’ scoreless streak wound up stretching six minutes before a layup got them back on the scoreboard, but the Trojans’ lead was 18-10 at that point thanks to a 9-0 run. Included in that 9-0 run was a 3-pointer by James off the backboard, just her second career 3-pointer but her second in three games.

As the half wound down, UALR found its lead stayed at 8 points. James finished the half shooting 4 of 4 from the field to lead all players with 9 points, and Dawn earned a game-high four assists at the break. No Trojan had more than three rebounds at halftime, but the team forced 11 Mavericks turnovers and scored 15 points off them.

The second half started slow for the Trojans, but a 3-pointer from Dawn three minutes in got the offense going. UALR built a 12-point lead with 12 minutes left in the game, but that’s when the Mavericks started shutting down the Trojans’ offense.

ARLINGTON, TX – Two Cobbins free throws were the Trojans’ only points for an eight-minute stretch, and the Mavericks’ first 3-pointer of the night with 5:16 on the clock closed the gap to 41-38. That’s when UALR’s defense redoubled its efforts and put the game away.

Dawn ended the night with 8 points, and Gault had the same number. Kiera Clark hit three midrange jumpers to reach six points on the night. Pratt added six rebounds to finish second on the team. UALR shot just 19 percent from the field in the second half but finished shooting 40.5 percent. The Trojans had 10 fast-break points and 20 points off turnovers. The team led for 38 minutes and 50 seconds of the 40-minute game.

With the top seed for the Sun Belt Conference Tournament secured, that means UALR knows the time of its would-be tournament games. The Trojans will face the league’s No. 8 seed on March 11 at 11:30 a.m. in the tournament quarterfinals. That opponent could still be one of three teams: Appalachian State, ULM or Georgia State. UALR has swept the season series with all three of those teams.

With a win in the quarterfinals, UALR would play in the semifinals against the No. 4/5 seed at 11:30 a.m. on March 13. The league championship game is scheduled for March 14 at 7 p.m.

The regular season comes to an end for UALR on the road next week as the Trojans will travel to Lafayette, La., for a matchup with the Ragin’ Cajuns. The teams are set for a 5 p.m. tipoff Thursday at the Cajun Dome.

(Courtesy: UALR Sports Information)

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