Coming off a 21-11 record during the 2022-23 season, including 17-1 in Ohio Valley Conference play, the University of Arkansas Little at Rock women's basketball team is preparing to defend its regular-season conference championship.
Despite its dominance in conference play, UALR was upset by Tennessee Tech in the conference tournament championship game and left out of the NCAA Tournament. This season, the team aims to avenge that loss and take the next step.
"We want to be OVC champs again this coming year and we want to go to the [NCAA] tournament as well," Jaiyah Harris-Smith said. "We just got to make sure everyone is locked in. It starts in practice and translates over to the game."
Along with Harris-Smith, who will return at point guard, Tia Harvey and Faith Lee are key returners who will be back to play another season under Hall of Fame Coach Joe Foley. Foley is among just five active Division I coaches with over 800 career wins. Harvey averaged 10 points a game last season, while Lee scored 8.3 points per contest.
"We're looking forward to the season," Foley said. "A bunch of new kids. Eight new kids and seven returners. The seven returners all played quite a bit, so I think we got a good nucleus to start with."
UALR has made a reputation for itself as a tough-minded defensive team, but Foley is looking for some of the newcomers to provide an offensive punch that is needed to get back to the top of the mountain in the OVC.
"Defensive wise, I feel like most of the time I can get teams to play pretty good defense," Foley said. "But you gotta have some scoring. We will be looking for scoring out of these new guys and hopefully the older ones have learned to score a little better."
Lamariyee Williams and Courtney Davis are transfers that will look to become immediate contributions for the Trojans. Williams comes from Oakland (Mich.) University, while Davis is a junior college transfer who spent the last two years at Highland Community College in Kansas.
Last year was the first for UALR in the Ohio Valley Conference after transitioning out of the Sun Belt. While Foley said believes the Sun Belt is a better overall conference, he added he thinks the Ohio Valley will be stronger this year.
"I think this year the conference may be a little better," Foley said. "I think more players are coming back and pretty good players, so I think it will be a little bit better conference this year then it was last year."
With a loaded nonconference schedule that includes road games at Arkansas and Ole Miss, along with home games against Alabama, Auburn and Kansas State, the Trojans will be well tested before starting conference play later in the season.
"With our hard nonconference schedule, it just makes conference a little more easier," Harris-Smith said. "We play a very tough nonconference and it's not a bad thing. It doesn't do anything but makes us better and prepares us for the conference."