Despite the return of two starters earlier than anticipated, UT Arlington was saddled with its second lopsided loss of the season, falling to Troy 80-70 Saturday at College Park Center.
Both sophomore guard Cierra Johnson and senior forward Toma Zaleckaite came off the bench in the first quarter and played substantial minutes in their return to the court in the final regular-season game for the Mavericks (15-15, 10-10 Sun Belt).
The Mavericks are seeded sixth in the Sun Belt tournament, and will face No. 3-seed Louisiana Lafayette, which swept UTA this season. The first-round game is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at New Orleans’ Lakefront Arena.
Johnson was on the floor for 22 minutes after missing the past six with a stress reaction in her foot. Zaleckaite played 23 minutes after sitting out Thursday’s 53-49 victory over South Alabama with a sore knee.
Amara Wainwright has made 10 3-pointers and scored 42 points in the past two games at College Park Center.
“I really wanted to knock some rust off Cierra, for sure, and she came in and did a great job of letting the game come to her,” UTA coach Krista Gerlich said. “Toma looked good, too. A couple days off in this tough last stretch of the season was what she needed.”
As the sixth seed, the Mavs will avoid a potential semifinal matchup with league front-runner Arkansas State (25-4, 19-1), which nearly made an undefeated run through conference play until the Red Wolves lost at Arkansas-Little Rock 71-69 on Tuesday.
For UTA, the focus will be on getting the first Sun Belt tournament win in Gerlich’s three seasons.
On Saturday, the Mavericks dug a deep hole in the second quarter by scoring only nine points against the Sun Belt’s top-scoring offense. The Trojans (17-12, 12-8) went into halftime with a 40-26 lead.
I’m looking to get her [Amara Wainwright] the ball every time down the court. It makes us a really dangerous team heading into the tournament.
UTA point guard LaShanda Green
UTA spent the third period trying to claw its way back, and an 8-0 run midway through the period helped, but Troy responded by scoring the last seven points of the third, including ArJae’ Saunders’ 3-pointer at the buzzer that put the Trojans up 58-44 heading into the fourth period.
Saunders finished with 20 points, and guard Ashley Beverly Kelley, who made 4 of 8 from 3-point range, led all scorers with 26.
Rebekah VanDijk led UTA with 21 points. Amara Wainwright scored 11 of her 20 points in the fourth period. The senior has hit 10 3-pointers and scored 42 points in her last two games at College Park Center.
“I’m looking to get her the ball every time down the court,” point guard LaShanda Green said. “It makes us a really dangerous team heading into the tournament.”