The women’s basketball team (18-6, 10-3) fell 62-61 in a nail-biting encounter with the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (15-8, 11-1) on Thursday at College Park Center.
The Lady Mavericks looked to leapfrog Little Rock with a win, but the Trojans now stand alone at the summit, having come into the game atop the Sun Belt Conference standings.
Head coach Krista Gerlich described the game as “a chess match” and “substitution nightmare.” She said bad lapses hurt the team’s defensive game plan while insufficient rebounds failed to stop Little Rock.
She thanked the energetic crowd of 1,188 and regretted being unable to produce a win for the home fans.
Gerlich said her offense failed to find gaps in the Trojan’s tight defensive scheme, forcing the Lady Mavericks to hold the ball longer and not play at the speed they wanted to.
“That’s one thing Little Rock does really well, is they slow you down,” she said.
Little Rock jumped to an early lead, holding UTA to four missed shots before scoring. Junior guard Aysia Evans scored four points to bring the Lady Mavericks within two.
As Little Rock kept putting points on the board, guards freshman Katie Ferrell and junior Brooke Alexander scored from deep to keep UTA hot on Little Rock’s heels. The first period ended 19-16 in favor of the Trojans.
A 3-pointer from Evans gave UTA its first lead of the game in the second quarter, which was short-lived. Alexander then hit a three of her own to give UTA a 28-25 advantage.
Evans and Johnson sunk a combined four from the line to to give the hosts some breathing room as UTA went on a 13-5 run to lead 36-30 at the break.
“We’ve got a lot of youth on the floor that are learning some really valuable lessons right now,” Gerlich said.
Little Rock responded immediately after the interval and cut UTA’s lead in under three minutes to draw even. The third quarter aired more tension as the scoreline stayed close until the closing minutes.
Gerlich expressed disappointment with her defense for not guarding Little Rock’s offense better in crucial moments, like when the team had a six-point lead near the end of the third.
The tension in the fourth quarter peaked as both teams seemed to size each other up with gritty defense and tacky fouls. They scored a combined eight points with nearly half the quarter gone.
As the shot clock expired, a jumper from Johnson was deemed good to give UTA a 58-55 lead, only to be canceled out immediately following a Little Rock 3-pointer.
Johnson sunk a three in response to retake the lead. Little Rock pulled within one, then jumped ahead with a little over 10 seconds to play after two from the charity stripe.
Those two free throws proved to be the difference as the time winded down. UTA tried scoring from the inbound with just over two seconds remaining but failed to get a shot off.
Gerlich praised both Evans’ first half and Johnson’s second half performances. Johnson notched a game-high 18 points while Evans put up 11 points.
The biggest positive takeaway was the team’s response and fight against Little Rock, Gerlich said. When UTA visited Little Rock earlier in the season, they tallied a season-low five assists compared to 18 on the night.
Gerlich said her players must react positively to the tough home stretch of Sun Belt Conference play.
“Our kids have to really buckle up right here and figure out how to finish in February,” she said. “It’s a grind. Our conference is good this year, and everybody is really battling and fighting for positions. We still have just as good a chance as anybody and we’re going to keep battling and keep getting up.”
Up next, the Lady Mavericks host Arkansas State University at 2 p.m. Saturday at College Park Center.
Photos: Trojans defeat Lady Mavericks in final seconds
The Lady Mavericks battled the University of Arkansas at Little Rock on Feb. 14 at College Park Center.
UTA was in the lead before the Trojans knocked down two free throws in the last 20 seconds of the game. The Lady Mavericks suffered a tight loss of 62-61 to the Trojans, who sit in first place, two games ahead of UTA in the the Sun Belt Conference standings.