When UALR Coach Steve Shields made the commitment to focus more recruiting on high school players two years ago he knew there would be some growing pains.
There’s no doubt he could have had more immediate success by restocking the roster with junior college players. But the problem with those players is that once they begin to flourish, they graduate and you never really get the opportunity to use their full potential.
And this year those growing pains have been evident. Nine of the 11 players in the rotation are either sophomores or freshmen. And UALR is 10-1 at home, 1-1 in neutral site games and 0-8 on the road.
Last night’s 82-50 loss at Middle Tennessee shouldn’t have been unexpected by anyone. Look at Middle Tennessee's roster. It's stocked with a heavy mix of junior college and Division I transfers. The fact that UALR is even contending for a Sun Belt West Division championship is remarkable. Yet, UALR remains at the top as we near the halfway point of the conference schedule.
You see, the one thing freshman players lack is consistency – night in and night out. Freshman players don’t know how to get a situation turned when it starts to go bad. They don’t know how to handle adversity. Why? Because it’s a learned behavior and they’ve never had to do it.
But this group has potential. Think about what they might look like next year. Potentially, every player on next year’s roster will go through spring and summer conditioning with Coach John Barron. That’s never happened at UALR.
At some point this team will have to win on the road if it is to remain on top. They’ll have to bow up and decide they aren’t going to take it anymore. They’ll have to decide they’re tired of seeing 82-50 in the box scores.
It will happen at some point. But until then, we’ll have to settle for potential.
Believe it or not, last night’s 82-50 loss at Middle Tennessee wasn’t UALR’s worst loss at the Murphy Center. UALR lost 85-50 in the 2004-2005 season. UALR went on to finish ahead of Middle Tennessee in the East Division standings that year, claiming their second division championship under Coach Steve Shields.
STAT OF THE GAME
19 turnovers by UALR. It’s a lot of turnovers and even more considering Middle Tennessee wasn’t pressing.
Avoid the runs: Middle Tennessee used a pair of 9-0 runs in the first half to blow the game open. These runs have become typical for UALR in road games this season. Grade: F.
Let it fly: The team with the higher field goal percentage was going to win. Middle Tennessee shot 56 percent to UALR’s 35.3 percent. Grade: F.
Rebound: Middle Tennessee outrebounded UALR 37-25 for the game. Grade: D.
Josh Hagins went 5 of 9 from the field to finish with a team high 14 points. He also had 3 assists and 2 steals. The only negative was five turnovers.
Just two points and seven rebounds combined for Leroy Isler (0, 3), Taggart Lockhart (0, 1) and James White (2, 3).
UALR had four assists in 40 minutes of basketball. That’s not sharing of the basketball and isn’t a recipe for winning.
UALR was a 15-point underdog and easily lost.
All predictors took Middle Tennessee. The closest prediction was OmniRankings’ 75-55 selection.
UALR remains in search of its first Sun Belt Conference road victory when it travels to Western Kentucky at 5 p.m. on Saturday.