Behind a strong defensive effort and a balanced scoring attack, the Arkansas-Little Rock women picked up a 79-59 victory over Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville in their Ohio Valley Conference home opener Thursday night at the Jack Stephens Center in Little Rock.
UALR (3-11, 2-1 OVC) forced 23 turnovers and scored 25 points off the turnovers to create separation against SIU-Edwardsville (3-13, 0-3). On the flipside, the Trojans were efficient on the offensive side of the ball and only committed five turnovers.
"Turnovers played a huge part and I thought the defensive effort was really good," UALR Coach Joe Foley said. "I thought we started off with good intensity on defense. We held their top scorer [Sofie Lowis] to two points, which was huge for us."
UALR's Jayla Brooks scored a game-high 25 points and collected six rebounds, while shooting 8 of 10 from the field and 5 of 7 from three-point range. Faith Lee converted on 8 of 10 free throws and finished with 18 points for the Trojans.
Leilani Wimbish-Gay continued her strong play of late and also had 18 points. A transfer from Temple (Texas) Community College, Wimbish-Gay has been named OVC Newcomer of the Week for two consecutive weeks.
"We've been working hard and it's showing on the court," Wimbish-Gay said. "I know we haven't scored that much in the past, so us scoring and us doing good things on defense is showing. I know if I score, my other teammates will score."
After losing their first 10 games, the Trojans have now rattled off three wins in the past four games. Aside from a more manageable schedule in recent weeks, improved shooting from three-point range has been a key factor in the team finding success.
In their past two games, the Trojans have made a combined 17 three-pointers. Brooks has spearheaded the improved long range shooting. She has shot 64.7% from three-point range in the past two games, knocking down 11 of 17 shots from deep in that span.
"Jayla has been shooting the ball really well," Foley said. "Every time she puts it up, I feel like it's going in. She's always been a top defensive player, but I think her shooting has picked up. She enjoys walking in the gym right now."
UALR got off to a hot start shooting Thursday night, converting on 50% of its shots from the field in the first half while going 4 of 6 from three-point range. Wimbish-Gay and Brooks each had 14 points in the first half. Brooks knocked down all three of her shots from behind the arc in the opening half and also dished out four assists for the game.
The Trojans held a 42-29 halftime lead and continued to build on the lead in the second half. The largest lead of the game came with 1:59 remaining on a layup from Brooks that gave UALR a 76-50 lead. Foley pulled his starters in the closing minutes as the Trojans claimed their first home win of the season.
"We have intense days here and there, but we all are a sisterhood," Wimbish-Gay said of the team overcoming the adversity they faced early in the season. "We all know that we want what's best for the next person. Coming off a loss, this game was really important. Especially at home, it's just building our confidence even more. We need to win our home games."
UALR 88, SIU-EDWARDSVILLE 80
Arkansas-Little Rock shot 57.6% from the field and 50% from three-point range in its Ohio Valley Conference home opener Thursday night at the Jack Stephens Center in Little Rock.
UALR (8-8, 1-2 OVC) got a strong performance from Khalen Robinson as he recorded a triple-double with 18 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists. DeAntoni Gordon scored 19 for the Trojans on 8-of-10 shooting from the field. Jaylen Crocker-Johnson had 14 points, while Jamir Chaplin added 18.
SIU-Edwardsville (8-8, 1-2) was led by Ray’Sean Taylor, who had 19 points and six rebounds. Shamar Wright scored 17 points, while Desmond Polk added 15 off the bench.
UALR scored 48 points in the lane and recorded 24 assists as a team, with Robinson accounting for half of the total assists. The Trojans held the Cougars to 32.1% shooting from three-point range.