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Sun Belt Conference Women's Basketball news and notes

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From the Sun Belt Conference

Week 17 Sun Belt Conference Women's Basketball Player of the Week

Taylor Ford (UALR, Junior, Guard)
Junior Taylor Ford had a career week in helping UALR win its ninth-straight game for the second time this season and reach 20 wins for the seventh-consecutive season. On Thursday (Feb. 21) at FIU, she hit 8-of-12 from the field for career-bests in points (20) and rebounds (10). It was the first double-double of her collegiate career. She followed that with 11 points as the Trojans knocked off Florida Atlantic. With 8-of-9 double-digit scoring games during the winning streak, Ford now is averaging 10.1 points per game.

Previous Players of the Week
11.13 - Ebony Rowe (Middle Tennessee, Junior, Forward)
11.20 - Chastity Gooch (Western Kentucky, Sophomore, Forward)
11.27 - Jerica Coley (FIU, Junior, Guard)
12.04 - Alexis Govan (Western Kentucky, Sophomore, Guard)
12.11 - Ebony Rowe (Middle Tennessee, Junior, Forward)
12.18 - Jerica Coley (FIU, Junior, Guard)
01.07 - Alexis Govan (Western Kentucky, Sophomore, Guard)
01.14 - Ebony Rowe (Middle Tennessee, Junior, Forward)
01.21 - Alexis Govan (Western Kentucky, Sophomore, Guard)
01.28 - Jerica Coley (FIU, Junior, Guard)
02.04 - Alexis Hyder (North Texas, Freshman, Forward)
02.11 - Joanna Harden (Troy, Junior, Guard)
02.18 - Jerica Coley (FIU, Junior, Guard)

Around the Sun Belt Conference
The Blue Raiders (20-7, 15-3 SBC) defeated the Warhawks 74-53. Kortni Jones led the way for MT with 30 points. The Blue Raiders have now won at least 20 games in nine straight seasons and is one win away from clinching the outright SBC regular season title along with the East Division.

WKU kept pace with the Blue Raiders, winning its two games this past week. The Lady Toppers defeated ULM 65-63 on Wednesday and followed that up with a 77-58 win over Louisiana-Lafayette. Saturday was a historic day for WKU as the team recorded its 20th win of the season, 10th road win of the season and 850th win in the history of the program.

WKU posted its first 20-win season since 2009-10 but 26th in the last 37 seasons. It also rewarded head coach Michelle Clark-Heard with a 20-win season in her inaugural year as a Division One head coach.

With a sweep of the Florida schools, UALR has now joined 14 schools in the nation with 20 or more wins in each of the past seven seasons (including 2012-13). The Trojans also have won nine-straight games for the second time this season. UALR won at FIU 51-47 Thursday (Feb. 21) and at Florida Atlantic 60-43 Saturday (Feb. 23) and now has 81 consecutive victories when holding an opponent to 50 points or less.

Arkansas State went 1-0 over the past week to keep pace and remain in a first-place tie with UALR in the West Division. ASU defeated Troy 71-49 behind a strong performance from freshman Jalen O'Bannon. The freshman forward scored 18 points for the fourth straight game to help the Red Wolves improve to 15-12 on the season and 12-6 in SBC play. ASU controls its own destiny for its quest for the West title. If they win their remaining two games they will be crowned the West champs and earn the No. 2 seed in the 2013 tournament.

Check out www.sunbeltsports.org throughout the week for updated SBC basketball news, stats and scores.

Recent Results

February 20 (Wednesday)
Florida Atlantic 73, North Texas 60
Troy 59, Louisiana-Lafayette 63
South Alabama 48, Middle Tennessee 69
Louisiana-Monroe 63, Western Kentucky 65

February 21 (Thursday)
UALR 51, FIU 47

February 23 (Saturday)
UALR 60, Florida Atlantic 43
Louisiana-Monroe 53, Middle Tennessee 74
Troy 49, Arkansas State 71
Western Kentucky 77, Louisiana-Lafayette 58
North Texas 61, South Alabama 65

Upcoming Games

February 27 (Wednesday)
Arkansas State at North Texas 7:00 PM
South Alabama at Western Kentucky 7:00 PM

February 28 (Thursday)
FIU at Louisiana-Monroe 5:15 PM
Middle Tennessee at Troy 5:15 PM
Louisiana-Lafayette at UALR 5:15 PM

March 2 (Saturday)
FIU at Florida Atlantic 2:00 PM
Louisiana-Lafayette at Louisiana-Monroe 2:00 PM
Middle Tennessee at Western Kentucky 2:00 PM
Arkansas State at UALR 4:30 PM
South Alabama at Troy 5:15 PM

Team News and Notes

UALR Trojans
With a sweep of the Florida schools, UALR has now joined 14 schools in the nation with 20 or more wins in each of the past seven seasons (including 2012-13). The Trojans also have won nine-straight games for the second time this season. UALR won at FIU 51-47 Thursday (Feb. 21) and at Florida Atlantic 60-43 Saturday (Feb. 23) and now has 81 consecutive victories when holding an opponent to 50 points or less. UALR has kept its opponents to under 50 points each of the last four games and 14 times this season. UALR wrapped up SBC East play with an 8-4 record and road SBC conference games 7-3. At FIU, Taylor Ford recorded her first collegiate double-double with 20 points and 10 rebounds, both career bests. With the 20 points, Ford now averages more than 10 points a game for the season. UALR made all six of it three-pointers this week while in contrast, UALR now leads the nation in three-point field goal percentage defense (73-313, 23.3 percent). In the first half against the Owls, UALR shot a season half-best 68.2 percent (15-22). UALR joins ULM and Middle Tennessee as the only teams to travel to South Florida and win both games this season. UALR wraps up regular season home play this week with a pair of SBC West games. With a win against Arkansas State on Saturday (March 2), UALR is guaranteed at least a share of its sixth-straight SBC West title. If the Trojans win both, they will win their 100th game at the Jack Stephens Center in only eight years.

Arkansas State Red Wolves
Arkansas State went 1-0 over the past week to keep pace and remain in a first-place tie with Arkansas-Little Rock in the Sun Belt Conference West Division. ASU defeated Troy 71-49 behind a strong performance from freshman Jalen O'Bannon. The freshman forward scored 18 points for the fourth straight game to help the Red Wolves improve to 15-12 on the season and 12-6 in Sun Belt Conference play. ASU also celebrated senior day on Saturday. Quinishia McDowell, Ashley Olvera and Andi Watson were all honored in a pregame ceremony for their contribution to the ASU women's basketball program over the course of their careers. A-State controls its own destiny for its quest to win the SBC West Division Crown. If the Red Wolves win their remaining two games they will capture the West Division title. A-State improved to 15-2 on the year when it outscores its opponent in the second half and have their opponents under 59 points in 12 of their 15 victories this season. Ashley Olvera tied a career-high with nine rebounds against Troy, while senior Andi Watson returned to the starting lineup for the first time since Dec. 15. The Arkansas State defense held Troy to just 49 points on Saturday, well below its league leading average of 72.1 points per game. This was 16th time that ASU has held an opponent under 60 points this year. Quinishia McDowell started in her 102nd  straight game on Saturday, the third longest consecutive games started streak in school history. Adriane Davie started in 114 games, while Rudy Sims started in 113 straight games. Ashley Olvera has recorded an assist in 44 straight games. She has recorded an assist in all but one of the games she has played as a Red Wolves player. ASU is 5-3 on the road in conference play this season and lost on the road just twice since Jan. 1.

Florida Atlantic Owls
Florida Atlantic will close out the regular season when it host South Florida rival FIU on Saturday, March 2 at 3 p.m.  The Owls will look to even the season series after the Panthers picked up a 65-55 win on Wednesday, February 6 in Miami. Prior to the game the program will honor seniors Kelsey Proctor and Breana Turner. FAU stands 12-15 and is 9-10 in Sun Belt Conference play.  The team will clinch the No. 6 seed in the conference tournament with a victory over FIU or a North Texas loss against Arkansas State on Wednesday, February 27. Turner ranks 11th in program history with 962 career points.  The New Orleans native is tied with junior forward Chenise Miller for team-high honors with a 12.6 scoring average for the season.  Turner scored a team-high 14 points in FAU's come-from-behind victory at North Texas on Wednesday, February 20.  She had a game-high 15 points against UALR on Saturday, February 23. Miller leads FAU grabbing seven rebounds and her 49 blocks rank among the league leaders.  Junior guard Takia Brooks rounds out the double-figure scorers at 10.7 points per outing. FAU has held five of its last six opponents to 65 or fewer points.  The team is scoring 68.3 points per game and has made a three-point field goal in 101 consecutive games.

FIU Panthers
FIU dropped a 51-47 decision to UALR on Senior Night in Miami, a loss which snapped a four-game win streak for the Panthers. Junior Jerica Coley netted a game-high 28 points versus UALR, marking her 25-consecutive double-figure scoring game. The All-America candidate has scored in double-figure and in 83 of 93 career contests, while the 20-point outing marks her 18th of the season. Coley currently leads the nation in scoring (26.0 ppg). Junior Jerica Coley has scored 1,997 points for her career, a mark which ranks third all-time at FIU. Across 93 career games, Coley has averaged 21.5 points per contest, an average which ranks second all-time in the Panther record books. With two regular season games remaining, FIU is 11-6 in Sun Belt Conference play. The 11 conference victories rank tied for second in program history along with the 2000-01 team, which went 11-5 in SBC action. Junior Jerica Coley set an FIU women's basketball record on Tuesday, Feb. 18, as she was named Sun Belt Conference Player of the Week for the fourth time this season. She also owns the program record for SBC POTW career accolades with eight such honors. Head Coach Cindy Russo has led her squads to 687 victories over 36 years, making her the ninth-winningest active coach in Division I. Her 33 full seasons at FIU are the fifth-most across all NCAA institutions, regardless of division, for number of seasons spent with one program.

Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns
The Ragin' Cajuns close out the inaugural regular season of the Garry Brodhead era with road games at UALR (Feb. 28) and ULM (March 2)…Louisiana is coming off a 2-1 homestand which closed out the home schedule for the 2012-13 season…Louisiana attempts to sweep the season series from UALR (won 56-54 in double OT on Dec. 29) and gain a measure of revenge with ULM (lost 68-63 in OT on Feb. 10)…Ashley Benjamin averaged a double-double as Louisiana split its final two home games of the 2012-13 season…Benjamin ended the week averaging 14.5 points and 10.5 rebounds and shot 57 percent (12-of-21)…Keke Veal scored double digits in both contests and has now produced double figures in 11 of the past 13 outings…Senior Brandi Schambough played her final home games last weekend and turned in the first back-to-back double figure outings of her collegiate career, scoring a season-high 16 vs. Troy and 13 vs. WKU…Schambough converted eight triples during the week as she moved over the 100-point barrier in a single season for the first time in her career…The victory over Troy, coupled with the win over FAU the previous Saturday, gave the Cajuns their first back-to-back wins in Sun Belt play under Garry Brodhead's direction…Keke Veal has averaged 13.0 points per game since Jan. 1 and that has allowed her to gradually take over the team lead in scoring at 11.8 points per game heading into the season's final week…Veal also leads the team with 61 steals and it tops in rebounding from the guard position with 119 total rebounds (4.6 rpg)…Sylvana Okde is on pace to finish the season with 73 three-point field goals made, which would rank fourth all-time in a single season and be the first Cajuns player with 70-plus triples since Rhonda McCullough in 1989-90 (McCullough made 88)… The freshman class of Keke Veal (11.8), Sylvana Okde (10.6), Kia Wilridge (8.6), Jasmin Mills (4.5) and Adrienne Prejean (1.6) – the foundation class on which Garry Brodhead plans to rebuild the program – averages 37.1 points per game (65 percent of the team's offensive production).

Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks
Junior forward Ashleigh Simmons played the game of her career on Wednesday night with career-highs in points (24) and rebounds (17) but it was not enough as Western Kentucky edged ULM, 65-63. The Warhawks trailed by 15 but led by one at the 10-minute mark of the second half. Alexar Tugler finished with a career-high eight steals. Simmons' performance was her seventh double-double of the season, which is fifth in the league. Her 17 rebound-game is tied for the most in the SBC this season. On Saturday, the Warhawks hung with SBC leader, Middle Tennessee, for 25 minutes and even led by one with 15 minutes to play but the Blue Raiders hit 13 three-pointers, eight from Kortni Jones who finished with 30 points, to hand ULM its fourth-straight loss, 74-63. ULM is now 19-16 all-time in overtime games after the win at UL-Lafayette. Alexar Tugler scored 37 points in the two games in Florida (18.5 points per game). The win over Troy on Jan. 10 was the 50th all-time Sun Belt for ULM. Seven Warhawks have led ULM in scoring this season. At #18 Texas on Dec. 11, ULM attempted 41 free throws, it was the first time the squad tallied 40 or more FTs in a single game since Dec. 21, 1999 (W, 66-65 vs. New Orleans). The Warhawk program collected its 600th all-time victory on Saturday at FIU. Mona Martin needs one win for 250 and ULM is three home wins away from 300 inside Fant-Ewing Coliseum.

Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders
Middle Tennessee (20-7, 15-3 Sun Belt) collected home victories over South Alabama and ULM last week to guarantee a share of the Sun Belt East division title. The Blue Raiders knocked off South Alabama 69-48 as Ebony Rowe and Icelyn Elie both notched double-doubles. MT closed out the 2012-13 homestand with a 74-53 victory over troy with three Raiders reaching double-figures. Kortni Jones made a career-best eight three-pointers and scored 30 points in the win. Her six assists also moved her to second all-time in school history with 458. Icelyn Elie posted a double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds, while freshman Caroline Warden set a new career high with 16 points. For the first time in 34 games, Ebony Rowe was held to just three points. Saturday's victory over ULM gave the Blue Raiders their ninth consecutive 20-win season with eight of those under Rick Insell. The Blue Raiders need one win or a WKU loss to clinch its fifth consecutive regular season SBC title. MT visits Troy in a Thursday doubleheader matchup before playing WKU on Saturday in an 11 a.m. game on the Sun Belt Network.

North Texas Mean Green
North Texas is going after its 10th conference win of the season, which would be the most in a single season since 2001-02. The Mean Green has won 10 games in the Sun Belt only twice. Alexis Hyder notched her eighth double-double of the season against South Alabama with 16 points and 12 rebounds. She needs one more double-double to tie the single season freshman record set by Jasmine Godbolt in 2009-10 and two more to break the record. The Mean Green is looking to end a five-game losing streak at home, which is the longest at home since the 2010-11 season. Loryn Goodwin had her streak of scoring in double figures snapped at South Alabama when she was held to just seven points. Goodwin had scored in double figures in a career-best five straight games. North Texas has lost five of its last six games and dropped to 2-4 in the month of February. The Mean Green hasn't had a winning month of February since the 2005-06 season.

South Alabama Jaguars
South Alabama recorded a 1-1 record this past week in its two Sun Belt Conference outings, falling at Middle Tennessee (69-48), but bouncing back with a 65-61 victory over North Texas in its final home game of the season. The loss to the Blue Raiders marked the 19th straight in the series for USA.  The 48 points recorded by South Alabama also marked the seventh time this season that the Jags have been held to 49 points or less this season.  It was the fifth time USA has been held below that mark in Sun Belt play.  MTSU's Eboni Rowe (18 pts, 11 rebs) and Icelyn Elie (11 pts, 11 rebs) were the first two Jaguar opponents to record a double-double in the same game this season.  The duo was also the last two players to do it in the same game as they did so back on Dec. 31, 2011.  It was also the first time that two opposing player have pulled down double-figure rebounding tallies since UALR's tandem of Marian Kursh and Britteni Williams did so in last season's conference tourney. On "Senior Night", the trio of Mansa El (19), Camille Reynolds (14) and Mary Nixon (11) came up big in their final home game, combining for 44 of USA's 65 points.  El was especially key in the win as she hit six of her eight attempts at the foul line in the final minute.  She ended the game with eight made free throws – the most by any Lady Jag this season in a game. With the four-point win over UNT, South Alabama improves to 10-3 under head coach Rick Pietri on "Senior Night" and have won nine of the last 11 and three straight.  The win versus the Mean Green not only, South Alabama locked up at least the eighth seed in next month's conference tournament.  USA currently sits at 8-10 in conference play, behind Florida Atlantic and North Texas who are both 9-10.  Should both of them lose their season finales and USA win its last two games, the Jaguars could climb as high as the sixth seed.  South Alabama will close out the regular season at Western Kentucky and at Troy. With her 11 points, Nixon has now scored double figures in seven of her last eight games.  Reynolds tied a career high with four three-pointers versus the Mean Green.  In the previous seven games, Reynolds had scored just 17 points before posting 14 points versus North Texas.

Troy Trojans
The Trojans (6-21, 3-15) lost two road games last week, at Louisiana-Lafayette and at Arkansas State. Joanna Harden led the Trojans with 25 points against ULL and 20 against ASU.  She has now scored at least 20 in four of her last five games.  Harden has also scored in double-figures in 13 straight games. Harden is averaging 15.4 points per game overall, sixth best in the Sun Belt.  She is averaging 18.6 per game in Sun Belt play, the fourth best mark in the league. Harden leads a Troy offense that averages 71.4 points per game, the best mark in the Sun Belt.  Troy is also the league's top rebounding team at 40.7 boards per game, despite no regular-rotation players over 6-foot tall. Just two weeks ago, Troy was giving up over 80 points per game, but the Trojans have held opponents to 70 points of less in four of the last five games and they now give up 78.8 points per game. Along with Harden, true freshman Ashley Beverly-Kelley is also averaging double-figure scoring at 12.3 points per game.  Beverly-Kelley also currently has 53 steals on the season, tying for the fifth most in a single season in Troy's Division I (1993-pre.) history.  The 53 steals also ties Beverly-Kelley for the Troy freshman record. Troy closes its regular season with home games against Middle Tennessee and South Alabama this week.  Saturday's game against South Alabama will mark senior night as Troy will honor Aarika Howard, Sophie Kleeman and Sarah McAppion in their final home game.

WKU Hilltoppers
Thanks to victories over Louisiana-Monroe and Louisiana-Lafayette last week, the Lady Topper reached the 20-win mark for the first time since the 2009-10 season.  WKU improved to 20-7 and 13-5 in the conference entering the final week of the regular season. It is WKU's 26th 20-win season in the last 37 years. For the first time since the 1990-91 season, the year after head coach Michelle Clark-Heard's final year as a WKU player, WKU reached 10 wins on the road with its victory in Lafayette on Saturday. It ended a span of 21 seasons without reaching the mark.  Additionally, It is just the fifth time in school history that WKU has won 10 road games in a season, and just the sixth time in school history that WKU has won six or more road games in SBC play.  WKU became the 13th program in NCAA history to reach 850 wins in Division One Women's Basketball. WKU is currently 850-436 in 51 seasons of basketball. WKU's 13 wins in Sun Belt Conference play are the most for the Lady Toppers since going 14-4 in 2009-10. Chastity Gooch now has 22 double-doubles on the year, tying the school record for the most in a season.  Current assistant coach and former WKU star ShaRae Mansfield set the mark during the 1999-2000 season. Sophomore Alexis Govan (San Antonio, Texas) finished with 23 points and seven rebounds against ULL, on the heels of a 27-point effort Wednesday night against ULM.   Govan now has 14 20-point games this season and 16 of her career.  Freshman Mariah Sunkett scored a career-high five points against ULL.  She scored her first points of the season in Wednesday's win over ULM. WKU – which has already secured a first-round bye in the conference tournament – closes out the regular season at home this week, hosting South Alabama on Wednesday and Middle Tennessee on Saturday.

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