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Ark-Little Rock no longer an unknown in NCAAs
FAYETTEVILLE, ARK. (AP) - Joe Foley saw a big difference in how teams prepared for and played against his Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans this season.
The head coach doesn’t expect that to change. It’s not as if the Trojans crept up on anyone this season.
UALR (23-7) earned an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament by winning the Sun Belt Conference tournament last week. The 12th-seeded Trojans will face No. 5 seed Wisconsin-Green Bay (32-1) on Sunday in Wichita, Kan.
This is the second straight season UALR has reached the tournament. A year ago, the Trojans received an at-large bid. They made the most of their No. 11 seed by defeating Georgia Tech in the opening round before falling to Oklahoma.
“We’re not going to sneak up on anybody this year,” Foley said. “Whoever draws us is going to look at what this team has done the last few years and see we can play. Whoever gets us will be very prepared for us, and hopefully we’ll be very prepared for them.”
UALR started slowly this season with five losses in its first eight games. All the losses came on the road, including games at Texas A&M and Oklahoma State.
Several seniors, including returning leading scorer Chastity Reed, missed much of the offseason conditioning due to injuries.
Foley said the Trojans had to play their way into shape, but he also saw a noticeable difference from opponents.
“It was more of a grind this year than anything,” Foley said. “Instead of us kind of being the unexpected and everybody wondering how good we are, everybody said, ‘They’re one of the best in the conference,’ so everybody gave us their best shot.”
After the opening stretch, UALR won 14 games in a row at one point before losing twice in conference play near the end of the regular season.
The Trojans improved once again behind Reed, an AP All-American honorable mention last season while averaging 24.8 points.
With new responsibilities on defense this season, she still averaged 19.4 points and 6.3 rebounds, and scored 22 points in the conference championship win over Western Kentucky.
She also had a key pair of late assists in the win.
“They tried to make sure I didn’t have the ball in my spot,” Reed said. “They tried to push me out farther, tried to contest my shot. So, I had to adjust to that and I’m happy that it happened as early as it did. I moved in a little more and stayed confident. I just didn’t worry about, just played the way I played, and if that wasn’t working, I tried to get somebody else going.”
Foley gave UALR three days off following the conference tournament and he is confident moving forward into the NCAA tourney.
“This year it’s more about we know we’re going to get to play, so we’d better go in focused,” Foley said. “They feel like they can keep playing. That’s a huge difference, being glad to get there and being determined to go in and play well.”
Reed is also ready for another chance to prove what UALR is capable of.
“I know it’s possibly the last game that could be played, so I feel like it’s going to be a battle regardless of who you play,” Reed said. “I felt like that last year and this year. I know I didn’t care at all who we played. I have never been afraid of anything in my life. I’m not about to start now.”
By Donald Lambro
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