Photo Courtesy: UALR Athletics (Mark Wagner)
HOT SPRINGS, Ark. (SUN BELT) - The Trojans pushed their winning streak to 13 games and reached the finals of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament for the fifth consecutive year as UALR (24-7) knocked off Western Kentucky (21-10) 74-54 Sunday afternoon (March 10).
The Lady Toppers had won the previous two meetings on the season, but UALR improves to 12-3 since 2007-08 in in-season rematches where it had previously lost.
UALR was red hot to start both halves, hitting nine if it's first 15 shots in each stanza. The Trojans shot 29-61 (47.5 percent) with 20 assists against a season-low six turnovers in the contest. UALR forced 19 WKU turnovers and converted them into 27 points.
A quartet of Trojans reached double digits in scoring. Sophomore Taylor Gault led the way with 18 points, four assists and a pair of thefts. Freshman Shanity James contributed 15 points and a team-high nine rebounds. Sophomore Kiera Clark scored 14 points and career bests with five assists and four steals.
Junior Taylor Ford scored 13 points and tallied a helper on seven baskets.
For Western Kentucky, Alexis Govan scored 29 points while Chastity Gooch recorded 11 points and grabbed a team-best 13 rebounds.
UALR trailed for only 2:29 in the game, taking control early with a pair of 10-0 runs. Down 7-4, Gault grabbed a steal and hit Clark in stride. The Trojans followed when Ford poked the ball free and sprinted down the court for the fastbreak layup. Clark then hit James after a defensive board and Clark added a jumper. James hit a pair from the charity stripe after the first media timeout as UALR scored on five-straight possessions to take a 14-7 lead at the 15:00 minute mark.
With the Trojans up 18-11, UALR threw another 10-0 run at the Lady Toppers. Gault tripled on the top of the arc and shook off her defender just inside the arc for a jumper. Gault hit an elbow jumper and Ford completed an old-fashioned three. UALR led 28-11 with 9:14 left in the first half.
WKU threatened late in the first half with a 5-0 run of its own to cut the deficit back to single digits. Chaney Means hit a three for Western Kentucky and Gooch added the layup to cut it to 31-22. UALR responded when junior Hannah Fohne worked underneath and found James for the layup to push the lead to more than 10 for good in the contest. James made a fastbreak layup off a Clark theft and Ford hit a final jumper as UALR led 37-25 going into halftime.
In the first half alone, UALR scored 17 points off of 11 miscues for Western Kentucky. UALR had only a pair of turnovers, tied for the lowest in a half on the season by the Trojans (second half SMU).
UALR erased all doubt when it came out and scored the first 15 points in six of the first seven possessions of the second period. After a stop, Fohne found Clark deep in the paint for the layup. Gault tripled from the left wing and James completed a three the hard way. Gault hit a pair of jumpers around a steal and a fastbreak layup by Clark as UALR blew the game open to a 52-25 advantage with 16:41 left. UALR built the lead to 28 and never led by less than 19. WKU cut the UALR advantage to 71-52 with a minute left, but senior Janette Merriex hit her second triple of the game with 47 ticks left as UALR cruised to the 74-54 victory.
The 54 points for Western Kentucky was the third lowest for the Lady Toppers this season.
UALR returns to action tomorrow at 1 p.m. in the finals of the SBC Tournament. The game will be shown live nationally on ESPNU.