Sun Belt champs head to Oregon

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Taylor Boydstun
Staff Writer

Troy women’s basketball performed beyond expectations, bringing home its first Sun Belt Championship in program history.

The Trojans beat the University of Arkansas-Little Rock 61-60 on Saturday, March 12, at Lakefront Arena in New Orleans. They won the title in Troy’s first ever conference championship appearance.

“Our overall goal and theme was faith; faith was our motto,” coach Chanda Rigby said. “I felt more out of sync and more out of the groove in this game than probably any game we’ve played the second half of the year.

“It was a bad feeling, but the faith—we just kept saying to keep it close.”

Rigby said this faith to conquer the game individually impacted the most key players of the game, including all-tournament selections senior guard Ashley Beverly-Kelley, junior forward Caitlyn Ramirez and junior guard Arjae’ Saunders. Beverly-Kelley was also selected as the Most Outstanding Player for the championships.

The Trojans will now attempt to make another historic mark with their second appearance in the NCAA tournament. Their first appearance was in 1997. Troy, as a No. 15 seed in the Dallas Region, will take on No. 2 seed Oregon State University on Friday, March 18.

The Trojans (20–12, 12-8 Sun Belt) played a total of three games to win the championship. The first game was a 62-49 win over in-state rival South Alabama, and the second was a 96-89 win over top-seeded Arkansas State.

The quarterfinals took place on Wednesday, March 9. Troy scored lower than the Jaguars (15-15) in the first and second periods, trailing by nine points at halftime, but it stepped up its game at the start of the third period.

This led Troy to outscore its opponent in the remainder of the game, winning by 13 points and advancing to the Sun Belt semifinals for the first time in program history.

Top players for the game included Beverly-Kelley, Saunders, Ramirez and junior guard Claresa Banks. Each of these players scored points in the double-digits for the team and brought in 55 of the team’s 62 points collectively.

After staking their win over South Alabama, the Troy women moved on to play the top-seeded team in the tournament, Arkansas State (26-5, 19-1 Sun Belt) on Friday, March 11. Ramirez was the top scorer of the game, recording 24 points.

Sophomore guard Amanda Mendoza also played well, bringing in the second best scoring of the game with 22 points on six of 11 shooting from beyond the arc.

While the Trojans did not score much in the second quarter, they stepped it up in the second half to redeem the game. Their defensive play held off Arkansas State in the third quarter, outscor­ing their heavily favored opponent 32-15.

It was this determina­tion and driving force that pushed them to win the game, sending them into the final game of the Sun Belt Conference Cham­pionship tournament. In perhaps the most exciting Troy University sports achievement of the year, the Trojans won 61-60 over the reigning Sun Belt Champions, Little Rock.

With 21 seconds left on the clock, senior Beverly- Kelley scored the final shot of the game.

UALR then received the ball and dribbled away most of the remaining time, attempting a final shot that was blocked by Ramirez just as the clock expired, sending the Trojans into a huge celebration.

“And of course, what happened at the end was nothing that the coaches called,” Rigby recalled. “I believe it was Ashley Beverly-Kelley’s faith in the end that she could get the ball in her hands and pull us ahead, and I think faith is what made Caitlyn go up for the blocked shot that sealed it in the end.”

The Trojans will head to Corvallis, Oregon, on Friday to take on the Beavers in the Big Dance. The matchup, which will be televised on ESPN2, is scheduled for 4 p.m. CDT.

 

 

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