After Saturday’s overtime defeat to Southeastern Louisiana, University of Central Arkansas men’s basketball coach Rand Chappell said he is alternately sick and depressed and “absolutely as excited as can be.”
The Bears, who squandered a chance to upset the Lions (tied for third in the Southland Conference), close the season with a home game Wednesday against Stephen F. Austin and a road game Saturday against McNeese State.
“But we are a week away from the date that I’ve been counting the days for a long time,” Chappell said at Monday’s weekly Bearbacker luncheon.
After the season ends Saturday, the UCA coaches and players will begin preparing for the first season (2010-2011) in which the Bears should be full-fledged NCAA Division I members and eligible for postseason play.
“Having to tell recruits that we wouldn’t be eligible for the conference tournament even if we win them all has been a real negative,” Chappell said. “Coaches who had been through it told me the four-year transition to Division I would be the worst, hardest time I’ve ever been through.
“The first couple of years — halfway through it — it was fun knocking down barriers and doing things that had never been done. The last couple of years, we’ve run into a few walls. We feel in about seven days a lot of bricks will be taken off our shoulders.”
He said a couple of turnovers at key junctions and the inability to make enough plays helped the Bears fall short of the Lions after having a chance to win in the last 18 seconds of regulation.
“There is a fine line in a lot of games,” he said. “The upside for me is we played the No. 3 team in the conference right to the wire with what I’d call a thin team.”
After shooting 18 percent the second half in a 77-50 thumping at Southeastern Louisiana, the UCA women fell to 10-4 in the conference, one game behind East leader Stephen F. Austin. Lamar has the best record in the conference at 10-2 while Texas A&M-Corpus Christi is 10-4. The Sugar Bears are ineligible for the conference tournament because of the NCAA Division I transition.
“We could still backdoor win the league (regular season) if certain things happen,” UCA coach Matt Daniel said. “More importantly, I’m focusing on attitude and maturity. I’m not sure our young team understands the significance of what is taking place. There may not be a sense of urgency”
Saturday, UCA had a 14-point lead at Hammond, La., “then they (the Lions) put it on us,” Daniel said. “We’re starting to see the wear of a season on a young team. And they (the Lions) had two seniors on Senior Day who had career days.”
Daniel he is proud that the Sugar Bears, who played at SFA on Wednesday, have made one of the top-10 turnarounds as far as wins in a season in NCAA history.
“It’s so easy to forget where we came from,” he said. “I’m just elated where we are. I said about two years ago that this would not be an overnight quick fix. But it sure has been close.”
The final Bearbackers luncheon of the season will be at noon Monday at the Hall of Fame Room at Estes Stadium.