Sugar Bears face Texas in NCAA tournament opener

The UCA Sugar Bears and fans celebrate after learning their first round opponent will be the Unversity of Texas in the Farris Center during Monday’s selection show watch party.

The UCA Sugar Bears are heading back to the Big Dance for the second straight year and are headed to Texas.

The Sugar Bears (26-4, 16-2 Southland Conference) drew a No.14 seed and will face the No. 3 seed University of Texas (23-8, 15-3 Big 12) Friday in the Lexington Regional, which begins with a sub-regional on the Longhorns’ home court.

UCA will head into Austin on a 17-game winning streak, including its second Southland Conference Tournament championship after beating Stephen F. Austin, 60-35, in the tournament final Sunday.

The Sugar Bears will face a Longhorns team that finished second in the Big 12 regular season and lost to West Virginia in the second round of the Phillips 66 Big 12 Tournament.

“Texas is legit,” UCA coach Sandra Rushing said. “They beat Baylor, and they have an inside-outside game. We’re also going there. It’s going to be hard, but we have to go in and play relaxed. We’re the underdogs and the pressure is on them.”

There’s also a uniqueness about Friday’s matchup as Texas coach and Bryant, Arkansas, native Karen Aston coached Vilonia High School from 1988-93, where she claimed a Class 2A State Championship and Arkansas Basketball Coach of the Year award for the 1992-93 season.

She is also a graduate of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock .

“She is a class act,” Rushing said of Aston. “I met her this summer when she came in this summer to speak at the coaches clinic.”

With the second consecutive year being in the tournament, UCA is not feeling as nervous as last year’s first-round exit to Louisville.

“You hope the experience from last year will help,” Rushing said. “Nothing takes the place of experience.”

Rushing sits alone as the first Sugar Bears coach to lead her team to two NCAA tournaments and has accomplished that goal in four years.

“Every year that I coach, I expect a championship,” she said. “We came up short the first couple of years I was here, but our seniors have done a tremendous job with leading this year. They have accomplished so many things, not only individually but for this program.”

UCA and Texas will square about 1:30 p.m. Friday. The winner will play the Auburn-North Carolina State winner Sunday.

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