McCollum’s Column: Sugar Bears face some early high hurdles

University of Central Arkansas women’s basketball coach knows the preseason will require patience as she works eight new players into a team that has been Southland Conference tournament and regular-season champions.

 

The preseason schedule reflects her scheduling philosophy and the nature of the building process.

The Sugar Bears open Friday night at the Farris Center against Division III Hendrix, which has been a traditional opening opponent.

That is followed by a Wednesday game at Big 12 power Baylor, ranked No. 3 in the country. Also during the first month of the season, the Sugar Bears play other traditional national powers on the road in Tennessee and Texas A&M. All three of those institutions have national championship banners in their arenas.

But the December schedule is also dotted with Crowley’s Ridge College, Central Baptist College and Williams Baptist, teams UCA should clearly have outmanned.

“Those games are designed so we have a chance to play a lot of players,” she said. “We are really an unknown.”

The focus is really on January and beyond as UCA tries to three-peat a conference title and earn its third straight NCAA berth.

And those triple high hurdles of Baylor, Tennessee and Texas A&M? If the Sugar Bears reach the NCAA tournament, the Southland Conference representative traditionally gets no higher than a 14 seed at best and those three are the types of teams they could face in the first round. Those games are a sample of what UCA could be looking at in March.

“We have a long, long way to go,” said Rushing. “The key is to progress consistently and make sure we get better, so that when we get to conference, we will beat at our best.

“Right now, it’s a lot of teaching, it’s a slow process.”

One challenge, as it is with all teams at this stage, is for players to figure out their roles. That process is intensified with so many young players that include former Conway star Savannah Lowe, who may be one of the freshmen who could work herself into the rotation early.

“I really like these guys,” Rushing said. “These kids really want to please.”

She cited one practice in which she saw a player break into tears.

“I asked her what was wrong and she said (tearfully), ‘I just want to run the drill right.’”

Obviously, an early stage in the process.

“We’ll know a lot more about where we are on Dec. 16,” said Rushing when the Sugar Bears finish their major non-conference slate against South Alabama.

 

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