UALR delivers payback, advances to championship
The UALR women’s basketball team came at Western Kentucky University in the semifinals of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament with a vengeance. After losing to WKU twice during the regular season, UALR was ready to show the conference who the better team was when it mattered most.
As if the two loses were not enough to fuel their fire before the tournament began, the Sun Belt Conference awarded several post-season accolades to WKU. Michelle Clark-Heard, was named Coach of the Year. Sophomore Chasity Gooch was named Defensive Player of the Year in addition to being named to the First Team All-Sun Belt Conference, along with teammate, sophomore Alexis Govan.
UALR was focused going into the game and operated at a high level of efficiency, dishing out 20 assists, committing only six turnovers and in the end came away with 10 steals.
“You can’t ask for any more than that,” Foley said. “I mean, that’s unbelievable right there.”
Four of UALR’s starters finished with double-digit scoring efforts. The group was led by sophomore Taylor Gault, who finished with 18 points.
UALR was able to force WKU into committing 19 turnovers. UALR converted those turnovers into 27 points.
Freshman Shanity James was all over the court for the Trojans. She was diving for loose balls, boxing out players for position to grab rebounds and played with unparalleled toughness. James narrowly missed achieving a double-double, as she totaled 15 points and 9 rebounds.
James helped shut down WKU’s Bianca McGee-whose season averages include 12.8 points and 3.1 rebounds per game throughout her 33 minutes of play. McGee committed five turnovers, registered one rebound and scored zero points (0 for 6 from the field).
“She’s a very important key for us,” junior Taylor Ford said. “As much as Gault is for scoring, and I am for bringing the ball up, she is just as important down low, getting those rebounds for us.”
Ford played with poise for every minute of the game (she was never substituted for a break, logging 40 minutes of action) as she dished out seven assists to go along with her 13 points.
“I thought that was probably the best game we played this year – offensively and defensively,” Foley said.
Clark-Heard’s reaction was just the opposite for the Hilltoppers. The coach was remorseful and stressed the disappointment in the way her young team’s season ended.
“We didn’t perform the way wanted to today,” Clark-Heard said. “This was their night. And that’s how it goes sometimes.” However, there was one bright spot for the Hilltoppers, which came in the form of Govan scoring a game-high 29 points.
UALR has its sights set on Middle Tennessee State University, its opponent for the Sun Belt championship game Monday, March 11.
“It’s going to be really aggressive, a lot of intensity,” Ford said. “Middle [Tennessee State] wants us as much as we want them. It’s the last time we’ll play Middle [as a conference opponent], so it’s going to be a really good game.”
The winner of the championship game will receive an automatic bid to play in the NCAA March Madness tournament.