The University of Arkansas at Little Rock women's team has nine returners from last season, and they combined with five newcomers to help the Trojans begin its 2017-18 season with an 86-57 victory over Memphis at the Jack Stephens Center on Sunday.
Sophomore guard Kyra Collier led the way with 23 points, but two first-year players excelled in supporting roles. Freshman guard Tori Lasker scored 21 and junior forward Yanina Inkina, of Minsk, Belarus, scored 12.
UALR (1-0) shot 55.7 percent from the field and 69.2 percent from three-point range, figures that Coach Joe Foley said helped simplify his job.
"When you shoot the ball like that, everything goes pretty easy," Foley said. "You don't have many games like that, but thank goodness they made it a little easier for me."
Memphis Coach Melissa McFerrin said she was impressed.
"They beat us soundly," she said. "They dominated the game. I didn't think the point differential would be what it was, but Joe has a tendency to coach people up."
Collier, of North Little Rock, hit of nine of 11 shots from the field and made both of her three-point shots.
"We just expected to come out and play hard," Collier said. "We shot the ball well. If you shoot the ball well and play good defense, this is what we should see."
Though UALR started the second half with a 43-30 lead, the lopsided nature of its victory began to shine through in the third quarter, during which it outscored Memphis, 29-14. Lasker scored 10 of UALR's points in the quarter.
"We had no idea what Lasker could do," McFerrin said. "We had no idea."
UALR took control from the start, behind the long-range shooting of Lasker and Collier.
Lasker, of Mayflower, said she had to battle a severe case of first-game jitters. Nevertheless, she hit three-pointers on two of UALR's first five possessions. Her second gave UALR a 10-4 lead with 7:11 left in the first quarter.
"I was so nervous, I was shaking," Lasker said. "But I just trusted my teammates. They told me to shoot it. They told me to drive it. They told me to do what I do in practice every day, and that gave me confidence."
"I think when she hit that first shot, everything started going pretty good," Foley said. "But before games, you want kids a little nervous, especially freshmen in their first game of the year. I thought she handled it well."
Inkina scored on a three-pointer on UALR's next possession to give it a 13-4 lead.
"I'm really glad that I came here," Inkina said. "It's a good school with a good basketball program, and I know for sure that Coach Foley is going to help me to be a better player."
UALR went scoreless over the following three minutes, and Memphis was within 13-11 after senior forward Cheyenne Creighton's baseline 10-footer with 3:58 left.
Creighton led Memphis (1-1) with 26 points.
Five points from Collier over the remainder of the quarter helped UALR reestablish command at 21-14
Collier's rebound layup and Lasker's three-pointer put UALR up 26-14 early in the second quarter.
Lasker completed the game at six for eight from the field. She hit five of five three-point attempts and was four for four on free-throw attempts.
"I was shocked how well she played," Collier said. "She shot the lights out of the ball. I was real proud of her, real proud."
A three-pointer by senior guard Brea Elmore put Memphis within 26-19 with 6:26 left in the second quarter, but UALR responded with a run highlighted by Inkina's long-range shots, including a 17-foot jumper that gave the Trojans a 35-21 lead with 3:40 left in the half.
"For the opening game, for the first game, I thought we did a good job," Foley said.Sports on 11/13/2017