BURN THE HORSEThe deck was supposed to be stacked against this UALR team from the start of the season. There was just so much to replace from last year's team. After some struggles in the nonconference portion of the schedule, UALR went 12-4 in Sun Belt play to win the West Division and claim the No. 2 seed in the Sun Belt Tournament.
UALR couldn't sustain it with a first-round loss to Western Kentucky in a carbon copy of an earlier meeting between the two schools in Bowling Green, Ky. In both games, UALR was in control for most of the first 35 minutes before a late collapse.
Ultimately, the things that were question marks for this team this season proved to be issues in the final game. UALR's inability to rebound and handle opponents' press were obvious issues. The bigger question would have been why more teams didn't try to press UALR more often.
Here's a look back at the final game:
THE START: UALR got off to a positive start, surging to an early nine-point lead and leading throughout the first half. The only thing that could have made it better was some missed opportunities to further expand the lead. Grade: A-.
COURT TIME: Courtney Jackson finished with 11 points, 6 rebounds and 2 blocked shots. There were times he was the best player on the court. And there were times during that stretch when UALR didn’t get him enough touches. Unfortunately, Jackson didn’t seem to be able to elevate in the final minutes, getting his shot blocked twice after good moves to the basket. Grade: B.
TURN, TURN, TURN: UALR only had nine turnovers (it seemed like more) in 40 minutes. That’s a winning number. But the consecutive turnovers vs. the WKU press in the second half hurt badly. Grade: B+.
FREE MONEY: WKU’s offensive rebound advantage hurt (17-5) but the HIlltoppers’ free throw advantage proved the difference in the game. WKU made 21 of 41 free throws to UALR’s 13 of 18. Grade: F.
The future’s bright for UALR. Will Neighbour, Michael Javes, Taggart Lockhart, Ben Dillard and Chuck Guy are among those returning. Gus Leeper returns from injury, James White (redshirt) figures to be in the mix for playing time at the 3. And two freshmen point guards will attempt to replace the minutes lost by departing senior D’Andre Williams. And a pair of big guards and a big man are also on the way.