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Wolves, Trojans prep for SBC play

by Mitchell Gladstone | December 29, 2021 at 3:03 a.m.
Destinee Rogers was hired earlier this month as the interim coach for the Arkansas State women’s basketball team. Rogers has a strong basketball resume, having won four state titles in high school and enjoying a successful career at Central Arkansas before turning to coaching. (Photo courtesy Arkansas State Athletics)

There's something to be said for momentum, and while a mid-season coaching change could have derailed Arkansas State, the Red Wolves enter Sun Belt Conference play on a three-game winning streak.

But that means little when it comes to the next 16 games they'll play, beginning with a visit to Georgia Southern Thursday afternoon.

"At the end of the day, it is a new season," interim head coach Destinee Rogers said. "It's [about] what we do moving forward, so we're taking some things that we did well [and] some things that we did wrong, and we're trying to work on those things and carry them over to conference play."

Both ASU and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock will start their respective Sun Belt seasons away from home Thursday, with the Trojans slated to play at Georgia State at 11 a.m. Central and ASU heading to Georgia Southern at 1 p.m. Central. The two Peach State sides will then trek to Arkansas for Saturday contests -- UALR will play its home opener Saturday against Georgia Southern and the Red Wolves will host simultaneously Georgia State.

None of those teams were expected to be among the SBC favorites at the start of the season. Troy picked up 11 of 12 first-place votes in the conference's preseason poll, and it remains the league's top team per Troy has the league's highest efficiency margin at 8.0, a full two points ahead of No. 2 Texas-Arlington.

ASU (6-6), which was voted 10th out of 12 teams in the preseason, enters the conference portion of its season sixth in the same metric at -6.0 -- albeit well below No. 5 Louisiana-Lafayette, which received the other first-place vote.

Much of the Red Wolves' early success has been a credit to their veterans, a group led by senior Morgan Wallace and juniors Keya Patton, Trinitee Jackson and Jireh Washington that's combined for more than half of their points thus far.

Yet they've been backed by the freshman trio of Jade Upshaw, Mailyn Wilkerson and Little Rock Central alum Lauryn Pendleton, none of whom have yet dealt with the weekly slog of two games in three days.

"If we're going to be playing this type of schedule, we have to be mentally tough," Rogers said. "So we're trying to put them in situations in practice where they have to overcome adversity and fight through a tough segment."

Practice is all UALR (5-5) has had since a 73-39 rout at the University of Arkansas Dec. 12. The Trojans' game against Alabama was canceled due to a flu that ravaged their roster and two more games were called off when Tulane went on pause due to covid-19.

And while UALR has been one of the SBC's better teams in the games it has played -- HerHoopStats has the Trojans as the conference's No. 3 team in efficiency margin -- opens at home Saturday with a Georgia Southern side that has the nation's third-best scoring offense at 86.8 points per game.

The Eagles poured in 133 points in a near-record-setting win Dec. 13, just two days after dropping 121.

Neither Foley nor any UALR players were made available for this story.

As much as the Trojans might be hoping to put the challenges of the past month behind them, the strength of the SBC won't make things much easier in the near future.

"This league is a very strong league," Rogers said. "It's going to be tough. I'm aware of that. ... I want us to be free, I want us to go play hard, stick to the gameplan and we'll live with the results."

At a glance


UALR at Georgia State

WHEN 11 a.m. Central on Thursday

WHERE GSU Sports Arena, Atlanta

RECORDS UALR 5-5; Georgia State 6-6

Arkansas State at Georgia Southern

WHEN 1 p.m. Central on Thursday

WHERE Hanner Fieldhouse, Statesboro, Ga.

RECORDS ASU 7-6; Georgia Southern 9-3


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