Norman — By Michael Kinney
Transcript Sports Writer
In its win over Georgia Tech Sunday, Arkansas-Little Rock’s Shanika Butler faced off with Alex Montgomery, a bigger, taller and more experienced guard.
Despite the given disadvantages, Butler approached it like she does every game and held Montgomery to four points in the Trojans first ever NCAA tournament appearance and victory.
Beginning at 8:45 p.m. today, the Trojans’ designated lockown defender, who always guards the opponent’s most dangerous backcourt weapon, may get the biggest test of her career tonight when No. 11-seed UALR takes on No. 3-seed Oklahoma at Lloyd Noble Center.
That’s when she’ll start trying to stay in front Sooner point guard Danielle Robinson.
“I think Robinson’s a tough matchup for any team in the country,” UALR coach Jeff Foley said. “She is one of the best point guards in the country. I have watched her play AAU ball a lot. I’ve always said she is one of the quickest guards I have ever seen.”
Robinson’s averaging almost 17 points to go along with 5.9 assists and 1.9 steals per outing, and leads the Sooners in all three categories. Against South Dakota State Sunday, Robinson tallied 13 points, eight assists and four steals to spur OU to a 68-57 win.
“It’s two tough-nosed players,” Foley said. “I think it will be a great matchup for people to watch. She just wants to do what this team needs. And she has the athletic ability to do that. And she realizes it. She’s just doing what we ask her. But you have to have that heart, and she has the heart.”
Butler knows the type of dangers Robinson can present. But she also realizes that if she can slow down the all-conference performer, it gives the Trojans their best shot at winning and advancing to the Sweet 16 in Kansas City.
“It’s good to go up against better competition,” Butler said. “I think tomorrow is going to be a good example of one of the better guards I’m going to have to guard since I have been here.”
Before today, the best player Butler’s matched up against this season was Oklahoma State’s Andrea Riley, a familiar foe to Sooner fans. Riley torched the Trojans for 27 points, six rebounds and four assists as UALR lost 67-58 opening night
Still, Butler, averaging 9 points and six rebounds, believes the experience was helpful.
“I think she is going to bring speed, quickness and she is a smart player also,” Butler said. “I think playing against Andrea Riley was a good thing to kind of get ready for another Big 12 matchup,” Butler said. “I haven’t really faced another guard really like her. I’m just ready for the challenge.”
Being a defensive stopper has not always been on Butler’s resume. The St. Louis native was used to posting big numbers at Gateway High.
It wasn’t until she got to Little Rock that she found her niche.
“I think it comes from really wanting to win,” Butler said. “And having the respect of the team. When I have my coaches and teammates behind me to push me, telling me I can stop anybody, that drive gives me the ability to do it all, to go out there and try to shut the best down.”
Tonight, she’ll get another chance.