Defense wins out again
The Lady Trojans won their 12th consecutive game defeating the Denver Lady Pioneers 46-39 on Saturday, Feb. 2, at the Jack Stephens Center in front of a crowd of 2,134. Neither team shot above 30 percent from the field and UALR held its opponent to under 40 points for the third time this season. The Trojans are first in the Sun Belt Conference and sixth in the country in scoring defense, allowing 51.0 points per game.
“Again, it all came back to defense,” Trojan coach Joe Foley said. “Offensively we never really did get in a very good rhythm. They did a good job defensively against us like they always do.”
The Trojans (15-5, 9-0 SBC) improved their RPI (Ratings Percentage Index) from 70 to 62 with the victory. RPI is used to rank teams based on their wins and losses and its strength of schedule. The RPI is heavily considered when choosing teams for the 64-team field NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament held in March.
Denver (13-9, 5-4 SBC) started the game on a 5-0 run as the Trojans hit 1-16 shots in the first eight minutes. UALR took the lead 8-6 on a Janette Merriex 3-pointer with 9:15 remaining in the half. Down 18-22 with just under a minute left, Merriex hit another 3-pointer to bring the Trojans within one point at halftime.
“I hope it’s not a coaching failure, but evidently I’m not getting through to them,” Foley said about his team’s struggles to start well. “At least the time that we needed it, we did get it done, and that’s the sign of a good ball club.”
Pioneer guard Quincey Noonan hit a 3-pointer with one second remaining on the shot clock and 8:23 left in the game to give Denver a 36-32 lead. Trojans junior forward Marian Kursh grabbed an offensive rebound and scored a layup on the next possession to start an 11-0 UALR run to seal the game. Kursh scored seven consecutive points during the run, which lasted 7:12.
“I thought the last 10 minutes Marian did a good job inside,” Foley said. “Marian came through for us and that’s what we needed.”
Kursh finished with 11 points and 14 rebounds for her second double-double on the year. Early in the game, it seemed she was frustrated by the way Denver was playing her.
“It got real physical,” Kursh said. “That’s how they play. They’re real scrappy and they’re going to get after it and you have to be right there with them.
“I had some encouraging words on the sideline, so I had to pick it up,” she said wryly.
Senior forward Chastity Reed led the Trojans with 13 points, but she only shot 6-25 (24 percent) from the field. Reed, averaging 19.0 points on the year, has shot 32 percent the past five games. She averaged 24.8 points last season.
Denver forward Kaetlyn Murdoch led the Pioneers with 12 points and 11 rebounds in the loss. She shot 10-10 from the free-throw line, but was held to 1-8 from the field.