All-Arkansas Final Ends in Victory for UALR



Post-Game Interviews

NEW ORLEANS – Champions once again.

The UALR women’s basketball team defeated in-state rival Arkansas State 78-72 at Lakefront Arena on Saturday night, clinching the program’s third Sun Belt Tournament championship and fourth berth in the NCAA Tournament.

UALR (28-4) led by five points at halftime before Arkansas State (23-10) fought back to lead by as many as 8 in the period. But the Trojans dominated the end of the night, finishing on a 13-7 run over the final four minutes to win the title. The Trojans’ defense was especially good in those final four minutes, and the team forced three Red Wolves turnovers in the final 2:12 that led to fast-break layups.

“What a ball game,” UALR coach Joe Foley said. “I thought we came back and played with a lot of heart in the last four minutes. Our three seniors did a heck of a job.”

The Trojans will be playing in the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time in seven years. The team had previously won the Sun Belt Tournament in 2011 and 2012. The team also set a school record with its 28th victory of the year.

“Obviously any time you care and you compete, you don’t ever want it to end, but I’m proud of this group for not only certainly the season they have had but this tournament,” A-State head coach Brian Boyer said. “They played really well. Three nights ago, they competed really well, last night, and again tonight we competed with our best. We just fell a little bit short. They [UALR] have had an amazing year running through this league, about as well as any team ever has. I’m proud of my team because, as I think we’ve seen, in three games with them, there’s not a ton of separation there.”

UALR will find out its NCAA Tournament opponent on Monday night at 6 p.m. as ESPN airs the Women’s Basketball Selection Show. The team will play its first-round game on either Friday or Saturday.

Every member of UALR’s starting backcourt was named to the Sun Belt All-Tournament Team. Taylor Gault was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player while Ka’Nesheia Cobbins and Alexius Dawn also earned All-Tournament Team status.

Gault averaged 20.7 points per game in the Sun Belt Tournament, and she picked up a team-high 21 on Saturday night. Dawn, meanwhile, averaged 19.3 points per game in the tournament and set a new Sun Belt Tournament record with 15 made 3-pointers. She also had 3.7 rebounds per game and scored 17 points to go along with five steals on Saturday. Cobbins, who came into the tournament averaging 5.7 points per game, scored 11.7 over the three tournament games while picking up a team-best 7.3 rebounds per game and adding 20 assists.

As a team, the Trojans tallied 78.7 points per game in the tournament, 14.8 points per game more than their regular-season average.

UALR scored 22 points on the fast break in the game, nearly 15 more than its season average. The team shot 48.4 percent from the field and had just nine turnovers on the night.

The game was close throughout, with UALR’s 9-point lead in the first half the largest for either side. The teams were tied at 67-67 with 3:32 remaining, and the league championship was up for grabs.

“[We were thinking] just one possession at a time, one stop at a time,” Cobbins said. “We just knew we had to get stops. We got those and our offense just took care of itself.”

That was when UALR’s defense buckled down for good. Dawn stole the ball from the Red Wolves, and that resulted in a layup by Kiera Clark on the other end. UALR extended the lead right away as Clark stole the ball from Arkansas State and Cobbins got an and-1 layup. That made it a 72-67 UALR lead with 2:09 remaining.

The Red Wolves got those 3 points back right away on a Brittney Gill and-1 play, and the teams stayed 2 points apart as Kaitlyn Pratt and Jasmine Hunt exchanged layups with 1:26 to go. On A-State’s next possession, though, Dawn got yet another steal on Sun Belt Player of the Year Aundrea Gamble, and Dawn converted a fast break layup to make it 76-72 Trojans with 37 seconds left.

Gamble and Brown-Haywood were named to the SBC All-Tournament team after each finished with double-figure point averages over the three games. Gamble averaged 18.0 points per contest in the tournament, while Brown-Haywood narrowly missed out on a double-double average with 14.8 points and 9.3 rebounds in her first SBC Tournament as a starter.

“I can’t say enough about [Aundrea] Gamble sitting there next to me,” Boyer said. “[She] just competed again, 40 minutes, 27 points, seven rebounds, did everything she could defensively, just an amazing effort on her part. And next to her, Khadija [Brown-Haywood] too, the strides she’s made this year and to have the performance of 10 points, eight rebounds, really battled on the boards and played 39 [minutes], almost an entire game herself. [I’m] proud of these two sitting up here with me along with the entire team. Proud of the effort today, we just came up a little short.”

Kiera Clark got a steal when the Red Wolves got the ball next, and she finished off the night and the championship with two game-icing free throws.

“It’s such a surreal feeling,” Gault said. “It’s pretty cool to end your senior season like you ended your freshman season. When I was dribbling [the ball] out, I was just so happy for me and my teammates. I almost lost the ball.”

After making 27 field goals in the game’s first 30 minutes, Arkansas State had just three in the final 10 minutes of the contest. The Red Wolves still managed to shoot 50 percent (30 of 60) in the game, and Gamble led all scorers with 27 points.

UALR got big contributions in the game from Pratt and Clark, as Pratt scored 8 points and tallied a team-best seven rebounds. Clark played 25 minutes off the bench, scoring 13, grabbing four boards and picking up three steals. Cobbins led all Trojans with six assists, and she picked up her 400th career point and 300th career rebound on the night.

The Trojans have now defeated the Red Wolves in the teams’ last two meetings, and Coach Joe Foley has 699 wins in his 27-year career.

Both offenses got off to a hot start in the game, with the Red Wolves holding a 15-14 lead just seven minutes in. Dawn hit a 3-pointer on her first attempt to reach 13 for the tournament, and UALR was ahead 9-6 before Arkansas State went on a 9-0 run over just 83 seconds to go ahead 15-9. The Trojans got the next 5 points, though, as Gault hit a 3-pointer and James added a layup before the first media timeout.

The offenses continued to push the pace for the rest of the half, and both teams finished the period shooting above 50 percent from the field. Over one eight-minute stretch, UALR did not miss a shot as it built a 9-point lead. The Trojans made eight consecutive field goals and four consecutive free throws in that span while containing the Red Wolves.

Still, the Red Wolves offense did not go away. Gamble ended the half shooting 5 of 7 from the field and had 13 points to tie for the scoring lead in the game. Dawn also had 13 points on 5 of 10 from the field, and she broke the Sun Belt Tournament record for 3-pointers made in the first half when she hit her third of the game and 15th of the tournament. Gault was 5 of 8 from the field in the first period and had 12 points.

At the start of the second half, the Red Wolves offense continued to click while UALR’s fell off. Arkansas State made five of its first six shots in the half and took a 48-47 lead at the first media timeout. They extended that lead to 51-47 as part of a 7-0 run before Cobbins finally ended the run with a fast-break layup.

Arkansas State wasn’t done there, though, and they took a 58-50 lead with 11:22 remaining. That was when the UALR defense finally took over, and the Trojans overcame that 8-point deficit to win by six.

UALR will now play in the NCAA Tournament first-round on either March 20 or March 21 with a site and opponent to be determined. The Trojans will find out their opponent on Monday night as ESPN airs the NCAA Selection Show at 6 p.m.

UALR Women win 2015 Tournament


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