Freshman guard Di’Mond Jackson’s top priority this week is to help No. 3 seed Arkansas-Little Rock win the Sun Belt Conference Women’s Tournament at Lakefront Arena, starting with Wednesday night’s quarterfinal against No. 6 seed Troy.
If time permits, though, Jackson, one of four Louisiana natives on the Trojans roster, will also introduce her teammates to the culture and cuisine of their home state.
“I truly feel like it’s my responsibility to take some of the Louisiana things I’m used to. ... I have freshman (teammates) with me that have never eaten crawfish before, and I’m like, ‘Y’all are missing out,’ ” said Jackson, who played at University High in Baton Rouge.
Same goes for senior forward Hannah Fohne (2.2 ppg, 3.3 rpg), a former prep standout at Walker. After all, there may not be a better way to celebrate an automatic bid to the Women’s NCAA tournament than a hot bowl of jambalaya or a shrimp po-boy.
“When we talk about our food and other stuff, they just look at us like we’re crazy,” Fohne, a defensive standout, said, laughing. “Etouffee, some of them have never heard of that.”
Now, that’s culinary blasphemy.
With teammates hailing from as far as Missouri and Oklahoma, the Louisiana foursome will likely change that. Also on the UALR roster are freshman forward Kaitlyn Pratt (McDonogh 35) and junior guard Ka’Nesheia Cobbins (Dutchtown).
Here’s what UALR (17-11) can agree on: Its improved play to end the regular season is a welcome relief.
Arkansas State (20-10) enters as the top seed, and opens Wednesday against No. 8 seed Louisiana-Monroe (11-19) with the first of four tournament quarterfinal games.
UALR has won its past three games, including a 72-62 victory against ULM. During this stretch, UALR held opponents to an average of 58.3 points, part of an improved defensive philosophy.
Cobbins, an integral part of UALR’s run last season to the WNIT, has missed the entire season with an ACL knee injury. Fohne’s playing time has been minimized because of a back injury which will likely require surgery after the season.
“It’s been a learning process for our young ones, but at the end of the (regular) season, they’ve definitely picked it up and we’ve come together better as a team,” Fohne said. “We’re definitely coming together at the right time.”
Meanwhile, Jackson (2.2 ppg, 1.2 apg) and Pratt (4.1 ppg, 3.7 rpg) have earned additional playing time late this season.
Junior guard Taylor Gault leads UALR in scoring, averaging 15.1 points per game.
“They’re starting to catch on, starting to make a little bit more of an impact,” Foley said. “I look forward to those freshmen having great careers.”
The Louisiana players reached the program because of the recruiting efforts of UALR head coach Joe Foley and more specifically, assistant coach Robert Dallimore, whose ties to Louisiana include nine seasons as head coach of the girls basketball team at Baton Rouge’s Christian Life Academy. Dallimore led CLA to back-to-back state championship campaigns in 2003-04. He also spent seven seasons as the head coach of the AAU Baton Rouge Lady Tigers and three seasons as boys basketball coach at Redeemer-Seton in New Orleans.