BURN THE HORSEThe UALR women matched Middle Tennessee’s production on the inside and won 69-61 on Sunday afternoon at the Jack Stephens Center in Little Rock in a matchup of Sun Belt Conference division champions.
Marian Kursh had 17 points and 5 rebounds, Chastity Reed 15 points and 6 rebounds and Britteni Williams 12 points and 3 rebounds to lead the Trojans. The victory clinched the outright West Division championship for the fourth consecutive season. And it came in a matchup against Middle Tennessee, which has already clinched the East Division championship.
Both schools will be seeded No. 1 at next month’s Sun Belt Tournament in Hot Springs. And it won’t surprise many if they meet in the championship game for the third consecutive year.
UALR is now 2-3 against Middle Tennessee the past three seasons, but this game won’t go down as the classic some of the others were. That can at least partially be attributed to the officiating, primarily from lead official Darci Doll.
Doll, who gave Reed a technical foul earlier this season, made a mockery of the game in the second half. At one point, she lost complete control of the game and had to give silly technical fouls to both UALR Coach Joe Foley and Middle Tennessee Coach Rick Insell to try and seize control.
The opposite occurred. Insell continued to berate all three officials in the closing minutes. Knowing they didn’t have the guts to call a second technical on him. And he continued to call timeouts well after the outcome was decided, using that time to plead his case.
Shanika Butler had 15 points and 6 assists for UALR. Reed added 6 assists.
Middle Tennessee made a late first-half run to seize control of the game at the start of the second half. A free throw by Jordyn Luffman put the Lady Raiders up 31-26.
But UALR played its best minutes of the game after that.
The Trojans went on a 22-6 run, primarily sparked by the passing of Reed and the finishing of Williams on the inside. And Williams came up big, ripping away an offensive rebound and putting it back in as she was fouled with 11:26 left. Her free throw gave UALR a 48-37 lead.
Middle Tennessee got to withing 55-53 with 6:03 left before another UALR answer. Shanika Butler found Kursh for a layup, and then Kursh hit two free throws for a 59-53 lead.
After another turnover, Rolfe pulled up in the lane and got her jump shot to roll over the rim for a 61-53 lead with 4:11 left.
Reed’s fifth foul, questionable at best and called by Doll, sparked the technical frenzy. It wasn't so much as the foul being called on Reed as it was Doll's position when she whistled it. She was out near half court and didn't have nearly as good a view as the other two officials.
Insell, who for some reason was vehemently arguing after receiving the benefit of Reed’s fifth foul. Foley walked out near the center court stripe and was yelling as well. Doll signaled a “T” for Foley, and then turned and gave one to Insell.
It ultimately didn’t figure in the outcome. Middle Tennessee got only as close as 66-59 the rest of the way.