Ark.-Little Rock 63, Georgia Tech 53
On the big stage for the first time, Arkansas-Little Rock looked like an NCAA tournament veteran.
Kim Sitzmann scored a season-high 21 points - all but three in the first half - and 11th-seeded Arkansas-Little Rock won in its NCAA tournament debut, stunning No. 6 seed Georgia Tech 63-53 on Sunday night.
``I don't think there's a word to explain how it feels,'' Sitzmann said.
Arkansas-Little Rock (27-6) was so unsure of making the 64-team tournament field that it didn't hold a formal viewing party last Monday. The Trojans, who had a 21-game winning streak snapped in the Sun Belt Conference tournament title game against Middle Tennessee, received one of the last at-large bids.
Brigitte Ardossi scored 26 points for Georgia Tech (23-10), which fell to 2-6 all-time in NCAA tournament play.
Georgia Tech jumped out to a 6-0 lead, but quickly fell behind the smaller, speedier Trojans even though UALR's leading scorer Chastity Reed, the nation's fourth-leading scorer, had only 14 points - 11 below her average.
UALR will play third-seeded Oklahoma in the second round on Tuesday. The Sooners beat 14th-seeded South Dakota State 68-57.
``It's kind of like winning a national championship,'' said UALR coach Joe Foley, who won two NAIA titles at Arkansas Tech before taking his current job. ``It really is. The emotions during that game ... for these kids to have that kind of excitement and that kind of enthusiasm, it mirrors it. It really does.''
Women's basketball long seemed an afterthought at Arkansas-Little Rock, which never had a winning record until the 2006-07 season and went without a program from 1988 to 1999. Foley became the Trojans' coach before the 2003-04 season and steadily built the program into a winner.
Georgia Tech's size advantage and full-court pressure gave the Trojans trouble early. The Yellow Jackets scored the first six points and UALR didn't score its first basket for almost four minutes - a 3-pointer by Sitzmann.
But the speedier Trojans soon started breaking the press with long passes and layups. An 8-0 run by UALR put the Trojans ahead 14-11. Georgia Tech briefly regained the lead at 15-14 on a basket by Ardossi, but Sitzmann answered with another 3-pointer to put the Trojans back ahead.
``I told our kids before the game ... that I'd watched film and we were the best team,'' Foley said. ``I said that from my heart, that if they played that way, they pressed us, and we took care of business, I told them we'd win the game.''
Even with Reed on the bench with two fouls, UALR held onto the lead. Sitzmann's fourth 3-pointer of the half came right before the halftime buzzer and gave the Trojans their biggest bulge at 35-26.
Georgia Tech scored only four points in the first 11 minutes of the second half as UALR extended its lead to 49-30.
The Trojans eventually led 52-32 with 7:48 left before Georgia Tech scored 11 in a row to cut the gap to nine with 4:08 left on a put-back basket by Deja Foster, but UALR's Shanika Butler went coast-to-coast for a layup, was fouled by Jasmine Blain and made the free throw. UALR went 8 of 10 from the line in the final 1:40 to seal the win.
``We decided to start playing hard when it was a little too late for that,'' Georgia Tech coach MaChelle Joseph said.
Georgia Tech scored 55 points or fewer in its final four games and lost three of them.
``It wasn't defense, it was offense,'' Joseph said. ``You can't score 53 points and win.''
Ardossi's final basket gave her 1,001 points in her career. Sitzmann also moved into second place on UALR's career scoring list - behind Reed - and now has 1,512 points.
Reed also had 10 rebounds and recorded her 12th double-double of the season.
Foster scored 10 points for Georgia Tech, while Butler had 10 points for the Trojans.