University of Arkansas at Little Rock women’s basketball Coach Joe Foley has coached long enough and won enough games to provide him with a certain level of foresight.
Last season, the Trojans won their third consecutive Sun Belt Conference regular-season title, won the conference tournament for the second year in a row and were in the NCAA Tournament for the sixth time in school history before losing to No. 5 Gonzaga 68-51 in the opening round.
Even after losing their leading scorer and seven total players, and adding six freshmen in the offseason, Foley said he believes this season’s UALR squad has a chance to be stronger.
“Earlier, we’re not going to be anything close to what we were at the end of last year,” said Foley, who is 11 victories shy of 800 for his career. “But maybe by the end of the year, we might be better than last year.”
UALR returns guards Kyra Collier, Tori Lasker and Sydney Chastain, and forwards Teal Battle and Krystan Vornes. Collier, Lasker, Chastain and Battle all saw starting action last season. Collier, a North Little Rock High School graduate, echoed Foley’s sentiment about the Trojans’ outlook.
“If everybody buys in and stays on track, I think we have a chance to really do something special here,” said Collier, who was named the Sun Belt Tournament MVP last season.
The offense has Foley the most optimistic heading into his 17th season as head coach. Under Foley, defense long has been what’s guided the Trojans.
Last year, UALR finished 11th in the Sun Belt in scoring offense, averaging 61.4 points per game, but was also the league’s top-ranked defensive team, allowing 56.8 ppg. The year before that, UALR was ninth in scoring offense (59.7 ppg) and first in scoring defense (53.8 ppg).
The Trojans no longer have forward Ronjanae DeGray, who averaged a team-leading 14.5 points and 7 rebounds per game last season and was recently named the 2018-19 Sun Belt athlete of the year. DeGray’s twin sister, Raeyana, a forward who averaged 7.0 ppg, and guard Terrion Moore, who averaged 8.1 ppg, also have departed, with Moore transferring to Illinois State.
UALR does return its second- and third-leading scorers from last season in Collier, a senior who averaged 14.4 ppg, and Lasker, a junior who averaged 9.8 ppg.
Foley is also high on the offensive abilities of Battle, Vornes and a number of UALR’s freshmen.
“There may be five kids on the floor that can score, and we’ve never been able to say, ‘All right, these five kids can score,’ ” Foley said. “That’s what excites me about this ball club.
“It’s different, but I’d rather have a team like this where maybe every night there was somebody different that scores 16 or 18, and you had that possibility. I think it’s harder to guard. So that’s what this team can do that maybe other teams couldn’t do as far as scoring goes.”
Having Collier back is easily UALR’s biggest upside, and Foley said she’s one of the smartest players he ever has coached.
“It’s fun to watch her, and it’s fun to see how she thinks the game through, and it’s fun as a coach to coach a kid like that … because she’s like a coach on the floor,” Foley said. “Most people don’t have that kind of basketball mind. Collier’s one of the few that you get to coach as a coach that understands what you’re trying to get the kids to do.”
Foley said he also believes Battle and Vornes could make a leap this season.
“Everybody knows that Tori and Collier are going to score some, but they don’t know that those two kids can,” Foley said. “So if those two kids can do what I think they’re capable of, then that’s your X-factor.”
The Trojans’ nonconference schedule is once again unforgiving. UALR opens the season with a gauntlet, facing Texas A&M and Rice on the road in the first two games before hosting LSU on Nov.
- UALR is also set to play Arkansas in North Little Rock at Simmons Bank Arena on Dec. 21 before traveling to face another powerhouse in Mississippi State on Dec. 29.
“I think they’re going to get taught a lot of lessons, and a lot of valuable lessons,” Foley said of his team. “And that’s what’s helped us in the past.”
DATE OPPONENT TIME
Nov. 5 at Texas A&M 7 p.m. Nov. 9 at Rice 1 p.m. Nov. 13 LSU 6:30 p.m. Nov. 16 Central Arkansas 2 p.m. Nov. 21 at Florida Atlantic 6 p.m. Nov. 24 at Western Kentucky 2 p.m. Dec. 2 Louisiana Tech 6:30 p.m. Dec. 7 Tulsa 2 p.m. Dec. 17 Memphis 6:30 p.m. Dec. 21 Arkansas^ 1 p.m. Dec. 29 at Mississippi State 2 p.m. Jan. 2 at Texas State 7 p.m. Jan. 4 at UT Arlington 2 p.m. Jan. 9 Georgia Southern 6:30 p.m. Jan. 11 Georgia State 2 p.m. Jan. 15 Coastal Carolina 6:30 p.m. Jan. 18 Arkansas State 2 p.m. Jan. 23 at Louisiana-Monroe 6 p.m. Jan. 25 Appalachian State 2 p.m. Feb. 1 at Louisiana-Lafayette 2 p.m. Feb. 6 at Georgia Southern7:30 p.m. Feb. 8 at Georgia State 1 p.m. Feb. 13 Texas State 11:30 a.m. Feb. 15 UT Arlington 2 p.m. Feb. 20 at Troy 6 p.m. Feb. 22 at South Alabama 3 p.m. Feb. 28 at Arkansas State 7 p.m. Mar. 5 Troy 6:30 p.m. Mar. 7 South Alabama 2 p.m. ^ at Simmons Bank Arena, North Little Rock
*Sun Belt Conference game