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Trojans cope with roster size

by Eli Lederman | February 26, 2021 at 3:09 a.m.

The University of Arkansas at Little Rock women's basketball team has coped well leaning on a six-player rotation over the last month, but its short bench gave out at Louisiana-Monroe on Monday.

The Trojans (13-8, 9-5 Sun Belt Conference) suffered their first double-digit defeat in league play in the 62-44 loss to the Warhawks, snapping a 19-game winning streak over Louisiana-Monroe. UALR trailed 45-38 after three quarters before the Trojans shot 1 of 12 from the field and were outscored 17-6 in the final quarter.

The loss gave the Warhawks their first Sun Belt win of the season, and for UALR, a wake-up call ahead of the final weekend of the regular season.

"We didn't have a whole lot of energy and enthusiasm, and it caught up with us," Coach Joe Foley said. "We just couldn't hit a shot. We couldn't make shots.If you can't score, everything else gets kind of difficult."

Foley's Trojans will seek to return to the win column when they travel to West Division-leading Louisiana-Lafayette today and Saturday ahead of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament, which begins March 5. UALR enters the two-game series in third-place in the division, 1 1/2 games behind Texas-Arlington for a second-place spot that would earn the Trojans a first-round bye in the postseason tournament.

The Mavericks are set to visit Arkansas State University for a weekend series in Jonesboro.

UALR has maintained its place in the upper half of the West Division following the opt outs of Bre'Amber Scott, Brianna Crane and Alayzha Knapp that dwindled the roster down to just nine players. Since Jan. 22, the Trojans are 8-4 and have allowed opponents 50.4 points per game over that stretch. Despite losing its two leading scorers in Scott and Crane midseason, UALR heads into the final weekend with the fourth-best record in the conference.

That success has required heavy minutes from the players Foley still has at his disposal. Junior Mayra Caicedo leads the Sun Belt playing 37.6 minutes per game, and she is joined by three other teammates -- seniors Teal Battle and Krystan Vornes, and sophomore Ky'lie Scott -- averaging 30-plus minutes per game.

In the loss to Louisiana-Monroe, five Trojans spent 32 minutes or more on the court, and the fatigue caught up the UALR in its second game in as many days.

This weekend against the Ragin' Cajuns, Foley intends to extend minutes to reserves such as freshmen Paloma Iradier, Trinitee Alexander and MeKayla Holley, in search of relief deeper down the bench.

"We've got some other kids we're trying to get ready," Foley said. "We'll play them quite a bit this weekend and see where they are. Hopefully we can add one or two of them to the rotation during the tournament if we need it."

UCA hanging on

For three quarters Monday, the University of Central Arkansas women's basketball team hung with Southland-leading Stephen F. Austin before the Ladyjacks turned a 49-49 game into an 82-59 victory, outscoring the Sugar Bears 33-10 in the final period.

"We played three solid quarters and ran out of gas in the fourth," coach Sandra Rushing said. "The game was a lot closer than what the score indicated."

In the losing effort came another strong performance for a UCA team (8-12, 6-6 Southland Conference) that has won five of its last seven games following a 1-4 start to conference play. The Sugar Bears will conclude the regular season with four games in eight days Feb. 27 through March 6, beginning Saturday in Conway with a visit from Abilene Christian, and enter the quick run of games with their hopes of reaching the Southland Conference Tournament still hanging in the balance.

With Incarnate Word and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi unable to complete their 2020-21 conference schedules, the Southland has opted to use a points system to determine final regular-season standings and tournament seeding, assigning three points to each win within the conference, and one point for each canceled game.

UCA's enters the weekend slate with 18 points on six Southland victories, placing the Sugar Bears as the No. 7 seed in the eight-team conference tournament bracket as results stand. UCA trails closely behind fourth-place Nicholls State with 21 points, as well as McNeese State in fifth place with 20 points and Lamar in sixth with 19. Chasing the Sugar Bears are Abilene Christian, who are level on points with UCA ahead of this weekend's meeting, and Houston Baptist on the outside looking in with 12 points.

After Saturday's contest with the Wildcats, the Sugar Bears are set to host McNeese State and third-place Southeastern Louisiana before closing the regular season on the road at Northwestern (La.) State, which is winless in the Southland this season.

"We've got a tough challenge coming up," Rushing said. "We're trying to make the conference tournament. And we're not in yet. We've got three out of the last four at home. That is really positive. If we could finish strong and get to the tournament, that's a major accomplishment."

ASU skidding

ASU women's basketball will host Texas-Arlington at First National Bank Arena today and Saturday, offering the Red Wolves two more chances to snap their eight-game losing streak before heading to the Sun Belt Conference Tournament.

ASU (9-9, 4-8) are winless since Jan. 16, following a 9-1 start to the season, the Red Wolves' best since 1999-2000. Coach Matt Daniel's team sits in fifth-place in the West Division ahead of only Louisiana-Monroe, and holds the third-worst record in the conference overall.

Despite their struggles, the Red Wolves will be a part of the 12-team slate in next week's conference tournament. Slotted as the No. 5 seed in the West entering the weekend, ASU would face the No. 4 seed from the East Division, currently held by Georgia State. ASU can also leap Texas State for the West's No. 4 seed this weekend, trailing the Bobcats by only a half a game.

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