Similarities between this UALR team and the last one to sweep WKU

Zack Graber

There are similarities from the last time UALR swept Western Kentucky in the regular season and this year’s team.

The 2004-2005 UALR Trojans ended up finishing 18-10. But on the way, they lost by more than 30 points at Middle Tennessee, swept Western Kentucky in the regular season and lost only one game at home all season.

We don’t know how this season’s Trojans will finish. UALR is now 12-9 after Saturday’s 59-54 victory over the Hilltoppers. It came right after UALR’s 32-point loss at Middle Tennessee. And this UALR team has lost just once at home this season.

Neither team was a good rebounding team with both getting outrebounded for the season.

But there was one major difference between the 2005 team and this year’s team. The 2005 Trojans featured seven seniors (Columbus Willis, Zack Graber, Josh Jacobs, Brandon Freeman, Michael Pridgeon, Richard Hardman and Darius Eason). They also had a prominent junior in Elijah Muldrow and a solod sophomore in Zack Wright.

The 2013 Trojans have only one senior in walk-on Ted Crass. Other than juniors Will Neighbour and Leroy Isler, the rest of the minutes are played by sophomores and freshman.

That 2004-2005 season was an interesting one to cover. It started with lopsided losses to Oklahoma State and Georgia Tech (the OSU game was a lot closer than the final margin). After a 35-point thrashing at Middle Tennessee on a Monday night, UALR returned home to face Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee on a Thursday-Saturday. UALR beat WKU 69-66 and Middle 69-62.

This was also the season that saw the five overtime game in Miami against Florida International. I can still see Ivan Almante’s falling out of bounds bank shot three-pointer to tie the game at the end of regulation. UALR eventually lost 118-114. Graber earned a little national acclaim that day by playing in all 65 minutes.

But the Trojans responded by winning the next four games, including 55-53 at Western Kentucky and then heralded freshman Courtney Lee. In a tie game, UALR ran clock before Wright slipped a pass to Eason on the baseline. Eason’s dunk quieted the crowd as UALR took the lead. Western had a heave at the buzzer but it was no good and UALR seized control of the East Division.

The unique thing about that trip was that UALR was playing in a Bracket Busters game at Bowling Green two days later. So we made the trip from Bowling Green, Ky., to Bowling Green, Ohio.

UALR lost 74-66 at Bowling Green but returned home to beat New Mexico State and Louisiana-Lafayette in the final games at then Alltel Arena. The ULL game ended on a similar play to the WKU game. Down one point, Wright got trapped driving to the basket. At the last second, something caught his eye. It was the shoes of Eason, who for some reason wore black high tops that game. Wright slipped him a pass and Eason’s bank shot beat the buzzer for the UALR victory.

That season ended a week later in Denton, Texas, when the Trojans were upset in the first round of the Sun Belt Tournament by Florida International. And despite a really good RPI, the NIT chose not to invite the Trojans to postseason.