THIBODAUX, La. — The University of Central Arkansas Sugar Bears will open conference play Thursday night against the team that broke their hearts in the Southland Conference tournament last year.
Nicholls State, the eighth seed in the tourney, upset the Sugar Bears, regular-season champions and the No. 1 seed, 73-59.
The teams meet again on Thursday at 5:30 p.m. in the first game of a women-men doubleheader as the 2013 Southland Conference season opens.
Again, the Colonels are arguably the league's hottest team. Entering league play, the Colonels have the best non-conference record of any Southland team at 8-3, the best start to a season in program history. The Sugar Bears are just behind at 7-4, tied with Lamar and Southeastern Louisiana.
Thursday night's game will be just the third at home this season for the Colonels, who are 2-0 in Stopher Gym with victories over ULM (85-60) and Louisiana-Lafayette (71-62). Both the Colonels and Sugar Bears have beaten ULM this season, and both have lost at Arkansas State in their only other game against a common opponent. The Colonels fell 66-58 in Jonesboro on Dec. 19, while the Sugar Bears came up short 58-51.
Junior guard KK Babin is the catalyst for the Colonels, averaging 12.7 points (10th in the league), 4.5 assists (3rd) and 1.9 steals (tied for 6th). Senior forward Alisha Allen is the team's leading scorer and seventh in the league at 13.7 points per game, scoring a team season-high 28 in the win over Lafayette.
The Sugar Bears come into the game ranked 7th in the nation in scoring defense (48.2 points per game) and 11th in field goal percentage defense (32.2 percent), and are the Southland's top rebounding team with an average margin of +11.9 for the season.
The two teams are virtually even offensively, with the Sugar Bears averaging 65.9 points and the Colonels 65.5. Central Arkansas is shooting 41.7 percent for the year, 3rd in the league, with Nicholls just ahead in 2nd at 42.2. The Colonels are the league's top free throw shooting team at 71.4 percent.