UALR women work up sweat in clincher

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SWIMMING / BASKETBALL - NICK WALKER

The UALR Tro­jans en­tered their matchup with Ge­or­gia State hav­ing never lost to the Pan­thers in a Sun Belt Con­fer­ence women’s bas­ket­ball game, with six of their seven vic­to­ries com­ing by 15 or more points.

Form held Satur­day at the Jack Stephens Cen­ter in Lit­tle Rock, but the Univer­sity of Ar­kan­sas at Lit­tle Rock’s 52-45 ti­tle-clinch­ing vic­tory was any­thing but easy and never re­ally a cer­tainty un­til the fi­nal 42 sec­onds.

The Tro­jans ( 20-7, 14-1) led by 12 with 5: 02 left to play in the third quar­ter, but when Ge­or­gia State’s Tif­fany Hol­ston hit a layup with 2:19 left to play in the game, what looked like a sure corona­tion got a lot more in­ter­est­ing.

Back-to-back field goals from Ron­janae DeGray and Kyra Col­lier set­tled the Tro­jans, and UALR hit 5 of 6 free throws in the fi­nal 44 sec­onds to clinch the Sun Belt Con­fer­ence reg­u­lar-sea­son ti­tle and the No. 1 seed in the post­sea­son tour­na­ment and a first-round bye in New Or­leans.

It’s the sec­ond time in three sea­sons UALR has won an out­right reg­u­lar-sea­son cham­pi­onship un­der Coach Joe Fo­ley, and the Tro­jans have won 18 con­sec­u­tive Sun Belt games at the Jack Stephens Cen­ter.

“This is a blue- col­lar team, there’s no doubt about that,” Fo­ley said of a team that clinched a spot in the post­sea­son WNIT if it doesn’t make the NCAA Tour­na­ment. “There’s no high- fly­ing, high- pro­file ath­letes. The thing I en­joy about coach­ing this team is be­cause they pull for each other, they care for each other. And that’s why we’re win­ning.”

The Tro­jans led by as many as 10 in the first half, but al­most a third of their points came at the free-throw line, where they made 9 of 10, to go along with 10 field goals.

Lead­ing scorer Sharde Collins, who av­er­ages 15 points per game, was score­less un­til hit­ting a cor­ner three-pointer just be­fore the sec­ond quar­ter ended, and UALR went into half­time up 30-21.

Collins fin­ished with six points on 2-of-15 shoot­ing, but UALR’s post play­ers picked up her slack.

“You know, if our guards had been hit­ting, this prob­a­bly wouldn’t have even been a game,” Fo­ley said.

Se­nior post Kait­lyn Pratt led the Tro­jans with 16 points. DeGray fin­ished with 14.

“Coach told us early on that the post was go­ing to have to pick it up,” Pratt said.

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