No sluggish start for Lady Trojans
After the Trojans defeated North Texas in the regular season finale, Shanika Butler, the Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Year, said the Lady Trojans have been sluggish offensively the past few games. That didn’t happen in the second-round game of the SBC Tournament against the University of South Alabama Lady Jaguars. The No. 1 seed Trojans shot 53 percent in the first half and 57 percent for the game defeating the No. 4 seeded Jags 73-54 at Summit Arena in Hot Springs, Ark.
“I thought offensively, that was probably the best game we played this year,” UALR coach Joe Foley said. “I thought we had good rhythm, I thought we had good patience. I thought these two young ladies [Chastity Reed and Asriel Rolfe] right here had a heck of a game. They got us off to a great start.”
Reed, the SBC Player of the Year, had 12 points and five assists and Rolfe had 10 points in the first half. Shanika Butler didn’t score in the half, but contributed seven assists and two steals. The Trojans forced 10 turnovers and scored 15 points off of the turnovers, while committing only five. UALR had 15 assists in the half and outscored USA 16-6 for points in the paint.
The Trojans (21-7) started the game on a 6-0 run capped by two jump shots by Reed. The Jaguars (17-13) stuck around and trailed 17-15 after two free throws by Christian Shelter with 8:12 remaining in the half. UALR finished the half on a 20-7 run to lead 37-22 which ended on an Asriel Rolfe driving layup as time expired. UALR held USA to 33 percent in the first half.
“This time of year, you have to have something to bring you over the edge,” Reed said. “You play so many games, so I think we did have a hustle about us that we didn’t have early in the year. We played well. I can guarantee that we’re going to play hard throughout the whole tournament.”
Not much changed in the second half as the Trojans shot 62 percent and the Jaguars got no closer than 12 points the rest of the game. UALR held its largest lead of the game 68-43 after a Marian Kursh layup with 4:24 left. USA shot 35 percent for the game.
Rolfe finished with 18 points, on 7-11 from the field, and six assists after scoring a career high 20 points in a 75-66 win against USA on Feb. 23 in Mobile.
“They were just giving me open shots,” Rolfe said. “They weren’t really playing me close. I just had to be ready to shoot once I caught the ball.”
“Asriel Rolfe is the best pure point guard in our league,” USA coach Rick Pietri said. “Now the fact that Rolfe has added the dimension of the perimeter shot, which is something she could not do consistently her first three years. Now, she even looks to shoot and she makes an adequate percentage.”
Butler finished with seven points, four rebounds, four steals and a team-high 11 assists while Reed filled the box score with 22 points, eight assists and six rebounds.
“Reed is so good,” Pietri said. “She and Alysha Clark [a senior and SBC Player of the Year at Middle Tennessee last year] are two of the best offensive players I have ever coached against in 25 years. That includes males. Reed presents so many problems for you because she plays the post position like a guard.”
Trojan junior Marian Kursh had 10 points and led the team with eight rebounds. Senior forward Christian Shelter led the Jaguars with 18 points while her teammate, Sarda Peterson had 11 points. Cylenthia Kennon led USA with six rebounds.
The Trojans wore blue socks to honor the memory of Middle Tennessee University player Tina Stewart who was stabbed to death on March 2. Middle Tennessee’s colors are blue and white.
“We wanted to give the girls a tribute because it is a tragedy,” Reed said.
“We wanted them to know they had our support,” Rolfe continued. “We couldn’t imagine what they were going through, the pain they were probably feeling.”
MTU lost 77-62 earlier in the day to Arkansas State. The Trojans defeated No. 2 seed Florida International University 47-37 Monday, March 7, at Summit Arena.
UPDATE: The Lady Trojans won the final SBC tournament game against No. 3 seed Western Kentucky 66-59 Tuesday, March 8, in Hot Springs, Ark. The Trojans will advance to the NCAA tournament. More details coming soon.