Basketball teams give thanks
After a season that saw the men’s and women’s basketball teams make the NCAA Tournament, the Trojans had a fan appreciation night on Wednesday, April 6, at the Jack Stephens Center. Doors opened up at 5:15 p.m. and team photos were available to fans, so they could get autographs from the players.
Led by the senior trio of Chastity Reed, Asriel Rolfe and Shanika Butler, the Lady Trojans went to its second NCAA Tournament appearance in a row after winning its first Sun Belt Championship this season. Last year, the women received an at-large bid to the “Big Dance” after losing to Middle Tennessee in the SBC Championship. As an 11 seed, the team beat six-seeded Georgia Tech 63-53 in the first round before losing to Oklahoma in the second round.
The ladies (23-8) defeated Western Kentucky in the SBC Championship this year and received a 12 seed in the NCAA Tournament before losing a hard fought game 59-55 to the five-seeded University of Wisconsin-Green Bay in the first round. Green Bay went on to defeat Michigan State and advanced to the Sweet 16, losing to No. 1-seed Baylor 86-76.
The men’s team (19-17) lost its last three regular-season games before making an improbable run through the SBC Tournament, winning four consecutive games and defeating the North Texas Mean Green 64-63 thanks to senior Solomon Bozeman’s 3-pointer with 1.5 seconds left in the championship game. The Trojans received the 16 seed and lost an overtime game to fellow 16-seeded UNC-Asheville 81-77 in the play-in game of the tournament to end its season.
After about 45 minutes of mixing and mingling with players and coaches, the fans were treated to a video tribute from each team. Coaches and players spoke to the crowd after the tributes.
“I don’t think y’all understand how important fans are,” SBC Player of the Year Reed said. “Seeing the same people support us every day, people that have been coming in years upon years, I just want to thank you. I want to thank Little Rock, the coaches and my team.”
Reed has broken nine UALR basketball women’s records, including points (2207), scoring average (17.4) and rebounding (896), and is arguably (not much argument) the best player to ever play for the Lady Trojans. Her teammate, Rolfe, is first all-time in assists (558), minutes (4521) and games played (130-tied with Kim Sitzmann).
“I just want to thank everybody for everything throughout the years,” Rolfe said. “It’s been a great experience to play here. It felt like home. I’m really going to miss my teammates.”
After an 8-22 finish last year, men’s coach Steve Shields credited this past off-season for much of the team’s success.
“These five seniors committed to a great off-season,” Shields said. “When you sit there and think about building a program, it all starts in the off-season.”
Shields gave examples of how Bozeman played at a weight of 192 pounds last season and slimmed down to 178, while improving his conditioning. Junior Marlon Louzeiro came to the team last year as a transfer at 282 pounds and played at 245 this year. Six-foot-nine-inch freshman Gus Leeper got to campus this past summer at 213 pounds and added 20 pounds of muscle in which Shields commented, “… and you all saw what kind of finish he had to the season.”
Leeper averaged 10 minutes,1.7 points and 1.7 rebounds a game for the year, but started eight of the last nine games of the season and averaged 18.6 minutes, 4.2 points and 3.3 rebounds.
“There is no way any of that could have been done without John Barren,” Shields said. “He’s the best strength coach in the country. I’ve never been around a guy whose glass is half full all the time. He’s always upbeat.”
SBC Conference Player of the Year Bozeman was a senior this past season and will be gone next year, but he wanted the fans to know about the team next season.
“I just want to thank all y’all for your support,” he said. “It was a long year. Next year, keep supporting the club. They’re going to be a great team next year … so be on the look out for the Trojans. They play hard and they’re good teammates.”