Seniors go out with first-round loss
The No. 12 seed Lady Trojans ended their second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance with a 59-55 first-round loss to the No. 5 seed Wisconsin-Green Bay Phoenix on Sunday, March 20, at Intrust Bank Arena in Wichita, Kan. Last year, No. 11 seed UALR won its first-round game against No. 6 seed Georgia Tech before losing to Oklahoma in the second round.
“I thought it was a great ball game,” Trojan coach Joe Foley said. “I thought both teams really played hard. I thought both teams got a little tired at the end because they played so hard.
“I hated that we had to face each other right off the bat,” he continued. “I think both of us are top-quality teams. I think everybody sees that.”
Trojan senior forward Chastity Reed, the Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year, scored 24 points (19 in the second half) to lead UALR. She shot 11-19 from the field and added six rebounds.
“I’m disappointed of course,” Reed said. “I’m not mad that we lost. I hate losing at anything, but we didn’t give up. We did have a chance. We just didn’t knock down some shots.”
The Phoenix (33-1) scored the first four points of the game, but the Trojans countered with a 15-4 run the next 4:36 to take a seven-point lead with 13:22 remaining in the first half. The Phoenix went on a 9-0 run, capped by a layup from Julie Wojta, who led Green Bay with 11 points at the half and scored 14 for the game. The Trojans (23-8) tied it 21-21 with two free throws from freshman Asiah Scribner, but Green Bay went on a 7-2 run to close the half and led 28-23 at the break.
Reed and junior forward Marian Kursh each scored five points in the first half to lead the Trojans. Green Bay forced the Trojans into 11 turnovers for the half and outscored UALR 15-6 in points off turnovers. The Trojans shot 45 percent from the field in the half, while the Phoenix shot 43 percent.
Sophomore Janette Merriex hit a 3-pointer to spark a 9-2 run for the Trojans to start the second half. After the Merriex three, Reed scored the next 10 points for UALR in 4:39, giving the Trojans a 36-34 lead with 12:17 remaining.
Senior Trojan guard Shanika Butler, SBC Defensive Player of the Year, and Reed both picked up their third fouls less than two minutes into the second half. Butler picked up her fourth foul at the 17:30 mark and the foul trouble proved costly on defense. Reed had to be careful not to pick up any more fouls and Phoenix senior forward Kayla Tetschlag took advantage, scoring four layups in a row for Green Bay. Tetschlag recorded a double-double with 24 points and 11 rebounds.
Reed said that once she picked up her third foul, it affected how she played defense.
“If you look at the first half, I really was working around well, playing tough post defense, and once I got that foul, I had to start lagging back a little more and trying to front. That’s when they just lobbed it over my head,” she said.
The foul situation became dire when Butler picked up her fourth foul and was relegated to the bench for ten minutes. Butler’s presence on the defensive end was missed by the Trojans. She returned at the 7:16 mark, but fouled out when she was called for a charge with 2:04 remaining.
“We didn’t get the help,” Foley said. “Nik [Butler] knows how to help. They were reversing [and] we were trying to keep them from reversing the ball so the post man doesn’t get pinned. We didn’t get any off-side help and when Chas fronted because of the foul trouble, our freshmen didn’t realize and let them shoot a layup. Nik could have been a big help in that [aspect] there is no doubt.”
After Trojan senior point guard Asriel Rolfe hit 1-2 free throws to put UALR up 37-36 with 10:31 left, the Phoenix went on a 17-6 run capped by a layup from Tetschlag, giving Green Bay a 10-point lead at the 3:48 mark.
“Basketball is a game of runs,” Rolfe said. “We had to try and stop their run and get the momentum back our way. They hit good shots.”
An offensive rebound and layup by Kursh started a 6-0 run to make it 53-49 with 1:25 left, but the Phoenix made 6 out of 9 free throws down the stretch to preserve their second NCAA first-round win in the past two years. Averaging 75 points a game, Green Bay’s 59 points was its lowest output of the season.
“Little Rock is a team that has great toughness,” Green Bay coach Matt Bollant said. “They’re just kind of gritty and tough, and they make plays. This is a game where we had to match their toughness and we had to step up and meet them where they’re at and I thought we did that.”
The Trojans shot 45 percent from the field to the Phoenix’s 43 percent, but were out-rebounded by eight, seven in the second half. Green Bay’s dominance on the boards showed as they outscored UALR 30-16 for points in the paint. Each team had 17 turnovers, but the big discrepancy was in the fouls. The Trojans were whistled for 21 fouls to Green Bay’s 10.
Kursh had nine rebounds to lead the Trojans and added nine points for second on the team. Butler led the Trojans with five assists.
In their four years as Lady Trojans, Reed, Butler and Rolfe have led UALR to a 99-31 record (.762 winning percentage), the school’s first two NCAA Tournament appearances and UALR’s first SBC Tournament Championship.
“You coach these kids for four years and you’ve seen them grow into great players,” Foley said. “You feel so good about the way their career went to play in four post-season tournaments. It’s time for them to move on. It’s time to start with a new bunch. What they’ve provided these young kids and what they’ve got to experience, they’ll be ready for the challenge.”