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Omier gets 'wake-up' from coach

by Mitchell Gladstone | December 1, 2021 at 2:35 a.m.

There was a bit of a suprise when Arkansas State announced its starters Sunday at First National Bank Arena against Missouri-Kansas City: Sun Belt Conference Preseason Player of the Year Norchad Omier was not among the Red Wolves' first five.

Part of it was matchup-related. ASU Coach Mike Balado said he wanted to switch against the Roos and was concerned that Omier might pick up an early foul or two -- something that's been a reoccurring issue.

But he also wanted to get the Nicaraguan sophomore back on track.

"I don't think he's playing up to par and it was a little bit of a wake-up call," Balado said of Omier. "He needs to be a little more focused and not let all this notoriety get to him."

It's not that the 6-7 forward has been bad. He's the Red Wolves' second-leading scorer at 12.0 points per game behind Desi Sills and is averaging 4.5 more rebounds than the next closest player.

He's down from last year, however, in rebounds (from 12.3 in 2020-21 to 8.5), in points (from 12.6) and is averaging nearly a turnover more per game.

Some of Omier's issues showed Friday against Morehead State when ASU (4-3) was routed 75-51 on its home floor. Omier shot 3 of 12 from the field and committed three turnovers -- he's had at least that many in three of the Red Wolves' four games against Division I opposition.

ASU has been able to sustain itself, however, because of the play of Arkansas transfer and Jonesboro native Desi Sills. The junior is averaging 13.8 points in 28.0 minutes per game.

What's impressed Balado even more is how Sills has quickly inserted himself as a leader among a group that is nearly unchanged from a year ago.

"The biggest overachievement I've seen from that young man is his character," Balado said. "You always worry about a high-major transfer coming in and thinking, 'OK, now it's my team and I'm the guy.' It has been so far from that, it's not even funny."

Following a win against UMKC, the Red Wolves are in the midst of nearly a full week off. They'll play again Saturday when they host the University if Central Arkansas before going to the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff next week.

"You can throw records out the window," Balado said of playing in-state foes. "It's going to be more of a pride thing for the guys and the young men on their teams, so they're going to be two tough games."


Facing Aggies

Tara VanDerveer, Geno Auriemma, C. Vivian Stringer and Gary Blair. Together, they can lay claim to 15 national championships, 40 Final Four appearances and more than 4,100 career victories.

They are also the only four active coaches in Division I women's basketball who have won more games than University of Arkansas at Little Rock Coach Joe Foley.

But Foley's faced off against just one of them, and it's the same one he'll meet again this morning.

UALR visits Texas A&M, the third of its four SEC opponents this season, needing a bounceback after two rough games in Tulsa. The Trojans hadn't lost since their season opener against Missouri State, but took a pair of losses while playing without the service of junior college transfer Sali Kourouma.

The sophomore from Mali suffered a knee injury prior to UALR's road trip, and a team spokesman said Tuesday night that Kourouma will be a game-time decision against the Aggies.

If they have to improvise without Kourouma -- who would be the nation's fourth-leading scorer if she qualified -- the offense will likely run through some combination of point guard Mayra Caicedo and forward Krystan Vornes.

Vornes, an Osceola native, nearly averaged a double-double last season before tearing her ACL in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament opener. She was able, nonetheless, to play in the Trojans' opener, and since scoring nine crucial points in a comeback win against Memphis, Vornes has scored in double figures each of the past three games.

"I've been through a lot these last seven months," Vornes said Nov. 9. "[It felt] good to get back in the groove and find a rhythm. It's just overwhelming ... because I went from feeling like I couldn't do it to getting my confidence back and now I really see what I can do."


Leaning on freshmen

UCA (1-6) has just one victory this season. And it came against a preseason All-American who very well may be in the NBA soon.

"We had a pretty good gameplan of putting with people with good size in front of him," Bears Coach Anthony Boone said of defending Max Abmas in UCA's 70-67 win over Oral Roberts on Nov. 20. "We felt that we could take advantage of our size ... and the guys came out with a lot energy -- we had a pretty, pretty enthusiastic crowd here."

Perhaps not coincidentally, that was the Bears' only home game thus far. They started with road trips to Saint Louis, Butler and Baylor, beat the Golden Eagles, then played three games at the University of New Orleans last week.

Tonight, they'll visit Arkansas and then they'll play at Arkansas State on Saturday before hosting just their second game inside the Farris Center on Dec. 14 when UALR visits Conway.

That has presented challenges for Boone, who is utilizing four freshmen in his regular rotation.

"We'll do a little bit less working on ourselves and moreso working on other teams because we don't have as much time on the floor," Boone said. "And as far as the mindset goes, it just makes it difficult having to constantly adjust to being somewhere else."

One of those freshmen has been arguably the most important player for UCA.

Bryant's Camren Hunter is the Bears' leading scorer at 11.9 points through seven games, and he's started all of them.

In just his second collegiate contest -- at historic Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis -- Hunter scored 14 points, hitting 4 of 8 three-pointers.

"He is a very, very, very intelligent basketball player," Boone said of Hunter. "The other thing about Cam is physically, he came in looking like a free safety or defensive back ... and he is more than capable of excelling at the college level."

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