It will be Senior Day for Central Arkansas when the Sugar Bears host Lamar for a shot at a piece of the Southland Conference women's basketball championship. But Thursday night belonged to the freshmen.
Freshman Maggie Proffitt knocked down a pair of clutch 3-pointers in the second half and classmate Brianna Mullins put in a game-high 16 points as the Sugar Bears edged Sam Houston State, 54-49, in front of 2,154 fans at the Farris Center.
But they needed senior Micah Rice to seal the deal.
Leading 52-49 with 38 seconds left, the Sugar Bears (18-8, 12-3 Southland) took possession after Angela Beadle missed on the other end for the Bearkats (11-15, 6-9). With time winding down on the shot clock, UCA head coach Sandra Rushing opted not to call timeout and signaled to Rice to take the shot.
With time winding down, Rice drove down the left hand side of the lane, split a pair of SHSU defenders and tossed in an off-balance layup to give the Sugar Bears a two-possession lead with eight seconds left and what would prove to be the game's final point.
"It's a shot I felt like I could make, and I just tried to get to the rim and attack and get a high-percentage shot," said Rice, whose late-game bucket was her only points of the evening. "I've been there before a few times during my career when we needed a shot to tie or get a lead or extend a lead to two possessions, so I had confidence in myself in that situation and just tried to relax and go knock down a big shot."
Rushing nearly called timeout on the possession, but opted to leave the ball in her senior guard's hands.
"I debated it, but now I'm sure glad I didn't," Rushing said. "We trusted the ball in our senior's hands, and she went out and she got it done. I'm really happy for this team. The crowd was great here on Greek Night and I really appreciate everybody coming out. This was exciting and a huge win. All I want to do is praise this team – they fought hard tonight to get this win."
The win puts the Sugar Bears in the driver's seat in the home stretch of the Southland Conference title race, giving them a two-game lead with three left to play. Lamar, which comes to the Farris Center on Saturday, lost at Oral Roberts on Thursday to fall to 10-5 in conference play — leaving Stephen F. Austin as the only team that could catch the Sugar Bears to share the title if UCA were to defeat Lamar Saturday.
The Sugar Bears are now almost assurred of gaining a bye into the SLC tourney semifinals. A regular-season title also means an automatic WNIT berth if UCA fails to win the postseason tourney and gain the automatic NCAA bid.