Middle Tennessee 70, Ark.-Little Rock 68Mar 9, 2010 - 11:11 PM By NOAH TRISTER AP Sports Writer
HOT SPRINGS, Ark. (AP) -- All Alysha Clark needed was the ball and a couple inches of space.
Clark's layup with 1.8 seconds remaining in overtime gave Middle Tennessee a 70-68 victory over Arkansas-Little Rock in the Sun Belt tournament title game Tuesday. With the clock running down, the high-scoring senior made a quick, powerful move while closely guarded to give the Blue Raiders their 13th NCAA tournament bid and end a spectacular three-game stretch in dramatic fashion.
Clark finished with 48 points, setting the tournament's single-game scoring record for a third straight day.
"We knew exactly where we were going with the basketball," Middle Tennessee coach Rick Insell said. "And I'm sure everybody in the stands did. I was going to put it in her hands, and I knew that she would make a play."
The top-seeded Trojans, who had won 21 straight games, fought back from a seven-point deficit in overtime to tie it on Channon Haywood's two free throws with 29.4 seconds remaining. With the shot clock off, Clark actually passed out to the perimeter during her team's final possession, but there was just enough time for her to post up again, receive an entry pass and score.
"If I don't feel comfortable with a shot that I have or angle that I have, I'm going to kick back out and reposition myself," said Clark, the nation's leading scorer through Sunday. "We work on that every day in practice - kicking out and relocating."
Her final shot was a typical one. At 5-foot-10, Clark can score with both hands and doesn't need much time or space to get a shot off inside. She carried her team for lengthy stretches Tuesday and received just enough help down the stretch for second-seeded Middle Tennessee's sixth title in seven years at this tournament.
For two days, Clark had been trading scoring records with UALR's Chastity Reed. Clark's 40 points in the quarterfinals Sunday set a tournament mark, which was broken the following day when Reed scored 41 in the early semifinal. Clark answered with 44 in the second semifinal.
Before the title game, a fan held a sign that said: "41 is great. But ... 44 is the record!"
Not for long it wasn't. Clark also easily broke her own tournament record of 92 total points from last year, scoring 132 in three games this time.
Middle Tennessee was playing in its eighth straight Sun Belt title game.
UALR led 52-44 with 7:20 remaining in regulation after Reed made a shot from around the free throw line while drawing Clark's fourth foul. Reed missed the ensuing free throw, and Clark answered with eight straight points to tie it. Brandi Brown then sank a 3-pointer - her only points of the game - to put the Blue Raiders ahead 55-52, and Clark's two free throws pushed the lead to five.
The Trojans fought back, though. Asriel Rolfe made a 3-pointer and then a driving layup to tie it at 59, and neither team scored for the rest of regulation. Middle Tennessee's Jackie Pickel missed from the perimeter in the final seconds of the second half.
"It was one of the best games I've been involved in," UALR coach Joe Foley said. "There were times that both teams could have given up."
UALR had one last chance after Clark's final basket, but Shanika Butler's rushed 3-pointer was well off the mark.
Butler led UALR (26-6) with 18 points, and Reed was held to 14. The Trojans will now have to wait and hope for an at-large bid to what would be their first NCAA tournament.
"Yes, I do believe that they need to be in the NCAA tournament," Insell said after the game.
The Blue Raiders (25-5) not only snapped UALR's long winning streak, but they extended their own to 16. Middle Tennessee beat UALR by 20 in last year's title game, but the Trojans won by the same margin when the teams played earlier this season.
Eight players - including Clark - played 45 minutes in the game.
"If you didn't enjoy that women's basketball game today, you better check your pulse," Insell said. "I'm proud of our team, and I'm also very proud of Little Rock's team.
- SUN BELT CHAMPIONSHIP
AT HOT SPRINGS, AR
NCAA WOMENS BB MIDDLE TENN 70
UALR 68 FINAL IN 1ST OT
Mar 9 4:09 PM
- SUN BELT CHAMPIONSHIP
AT HOT SPRINGS, AR
NCAA WOMENS BB MIDDLE TENN 32
UALR 32 HALFTIME
Mar 9 2:44 PM
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