Little Rock’s Collins, Foley highlight Sun Belt Women’s Basketball individual honors

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NEW ORLEANS – Little Rock’s Sharde’ Collins and head coach Joe Foley were awarded top honors on Monday as the Sun Belt Conference announced its women’s basketball all-conference teams and individual awards.

Collins, a senior, earned the second Sun Belt women’s basketball Player of the Year award in Little Rock’s history, while Foley earned his fourth overall Sun Belt Coach of the Year honor. Voting for the individual awards and All-Sun Belt teams were conducted by the league’s 12 head coaches along with a selected media panel.

UTA junior Cierra Johnson earned the Defensive Player of the Year award while Georgia State’s Tiffany Holston received Newcomer of the Year honors, which returned as an individual award after a seven-year hiatus. Holston’s teammate, Jada Lewis, was tabbed as the Freshman of the Year, the second consecutive freshman honor for the Panthers.

Collins has been the Trojans’ offensive leader all season, putting up over 15 points per game. Collins is fourth in the Sun Belt in scoring, 10th in 3-point percentage and fourth in minutes played. In conference-only games, Collins is second in scoring, fifth in 3-pointers made and second in minutes played. The Texarkana, Texas native has scored over 20 points in nine games this season including a career-high 29 against South Alabama in January. Eight of the nine 20-plus point games came during conference play. Collins received Sun Belt Player of the Week honors twice and helped the Trojans win their second-ever outright Sun Belt regular season championship.

Johnson entered the year as one of the Sun Belt’s best defenders while also polishing her offensive threats. She was second on the UTA squad in scoring but led the Sun Belt in steals, averaging 3.0 per game while also pulling down 3.8 rebounds per game. Her 3.0 steals average also ranks the junior in the Top 20 in the NCAA this season. She has recorded two-plus steals in 23 of UTA’s 27 games, including 15 games of three or more steals. Johnson is also a two-time Sun Belt Player of the Week in 2017.

Lewis led all freshman with 232 points scored in her inaugural Sun Belt season as the Powder Springs, Ga., native finished the regular season with a 13.2 scoring average during league play. She averaged 31.8 minutes per game while shooting 40.8 percent from the floor and 37.2 percent from beyond the arc. She helped lead GSU to big wins over Troy and UTA averaging 19.5 points during those games.

Holston was a huge addition for Georgia State this season, averaging nearly a double-double for the seventh-seeded Panthers. She ranked fourth overall in the Sun Belt with 8.7 rebounds per game, seventh in field-goal percentage and 12th in blocked shots. The graduate student from Butler, Ga. has recorded seven double-doubles this season. She ranks second on the Panther squad in points scored, first in rebounds, third in steals, first in blocked shots and third in minutes. She has started all but one game for the Panthers this season.

Foley claimed his fourth Sun Belt Coach of the Year honor after leading Little Rock to a 23-7 overall record and the Trojans’ second outright Sun Belt title in the last three years. Little Rock has won 20-plus games for the 10th time in the last 11 years and over 12 conference games for the 11th straight year. Foley accomplished this year’s success with a roster featuring only four upperclassmen – one that joined the team midway through the season – and 11 underclassmen.

UTA’s Rebekah VanDijk and Troy’s Caitlyn Ramirez received All-Sun Belt First Team honors after receiving second- and third-team honors a season ago. Louisiana’s Jaylyn Gordon, along with Little Rock’s Kaitlyn Pratt will receive their first-ever All-Sun Belt First Team honors.

Gordon led the Sun Belt in scoring with an 18.1 average; VanDijk was second in the league at 15.8. Ramirez led the Sun Belt in rebounding, averaging 10.0 per game to go with her 13.0 scoring average.

The 2017 Sun Belt Conference Women’s Basketball Championship begins on Tuesday, March 7, at Lakefront Arena in New Orleans. For the first time since the tournament moved to New Orleans, all 12 teams will compete for the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. All games of the tournament will be televised by ESPN3, and available on the WatchESPN app, with the championship game set for a 6 p.m. CT tip Sunday.

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First Team All-Sun Belt
Sharde’ Collins (Little Rock, G, Senior, Sociology)
Kaitlyn Pratt (Little Rock, F, Senior, Social Work)
Jaylyn Gordon (Louisiana, G, Senior, General Studies)
Rebekah VanDijk (UTA, C, Junior, Pre-Law)
Caitlyn Ramirez (Troy, F, Senior, Psychology)

Second Team All-Sun Belt
Ced Gibson (Coastal Carolina, G, Senior, Interdisciplinary Studies)
Patrice Butler (Georgia Southern, F/C, Senior, Sports Management)
Angel McGowan (Georgia Southern, G, Senior, Mathematics)
Simone Fields (Louisiana, F/C, Junior, Informatics)
Cierra Johnson (UTA, G, Junior, Child Psychology)

Third Team All-Sun Belt
Joi Jones (Appalachian State, G, Senior, Biology)
Madi Story (Appalachian State, F, Junior, Exercise Science)
Jada Lewis (Georgia State, G, Freshman)
Chyna Ellis (South Alabama, C, Junior, Allied Health)
Taeler Deer (Texas State, G, Junior, Exercise/Sport Science)

Sun Belt Player of the Year
Sharde’ Collins (Little Rock, G, Senior, Sociology)

Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year
Cierra Johnson (UTA, G, Junior, Child Psychology)

Sun Belt Freshman of the Year
Jada Lewis (Georgia State, G, Freshman)

Sun Belt Newcomer of the Year
Tiffany Holston (Georgia State, F, Graduate)

Coach of the Year
Joe Foley, Little Rock

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