As University of Central Arkansas teams head for the second stop on their conference-opening road swing, they face contrasting challenges.
In the first game of a doubleheader against Southeastern Louisiana at Hammond on Saturday afternoon, the Sugar Bears will try to win their second straight to again establish themselves among the early contenders in the Southland Conference in defending their regular-season championship. The UCA women used 33 points and 11 rebounds by star Megan Herbert to power to a 72-56 victory over Nicholls State on Thursday night at Thibodaux in coach Sandra Rushing’s Southland Conference debut.
The Bears, meanwhile, saw a late comeback against the Colonels fall short in an 83-79 defeat. Against the Lions at 4 p.m. Saturday, the Bears (5-6) will try to avoid a two-game losing streak to start the conference season.
With Herbert leading the way and setting another record in a much-decorated career, the Sugar Bears hit Stopher Gym with a mission.
In the victory over the Colonels (8-4), Herbert notched her 71st career double-double with a season-high 33 points and 11 rebounds. She hit eight free throws to give her 554 for her career to break the Southland career record held by UTSA’s Angel Singleton since 1998.
Last year, the Colonels upset the league-champion Sugar Bears in the first round of the Southland Conference tournament.
“We felt like we definitely owed them, coming off last year’s tournament when they beat us by 20,” said Herbert, the nation’s active career leader in both double-doubles and rebounds. “We had a chip on our shoulder and a lot riding on this game. We had to come out and show that, yeah, we lost some people but we’re still the same. We’re still Central Arkansas and a team to be taken seriously.”
Herbert, who has averaged 23.3 points and 15.8 rebounds in her four trips to Stopher Gym, had 22 of her 33 points in the second half to help the The Sugar Bears pulled ahead by as many as 25 and pick up their 11th win in 14 tries against the Colonels.
“I’m happy with our effort and performance and I’m happy to start off conference play with a road win,” said Rushing. “The team played extremely hard, and I am really proud of the way we played defense.”
Courtney Duever had 18 points and eight rebounds, while senior Britney Gowans added six points and a career-high seven assists as UCA built a 16-point halftime lead. Senior Desiree’ Rogers, who suffered a torn ACL 10 minutes into the teams’ last meeting, had five points and four assists but — more importantly — contributed heavily to the Sugar Bears’ defensive effort.
“I am really, really happy with Rae and her defense,” Rushing said. “I thought she played great defense. Really, the entire team did. A lot of times people don’t get credit for doing the little things, but tonight she did that for us and the success of the team. The first thing people look at is points, and she can score more, but I’m so proud of her and her effort defensively. I thought Britney came out and gave us a lot of energy. When she’s flat, sometimes we are flat as a team.”
Alisha Allen had 21 points for the Colonels, with LiAnn McCarthy adding 11 and KK Babin 10. Babin was forced into six turnovers, and Allen committed four.
“That was a big part of our focus all week,” Herbert said. “We know those two are great players, and the key to getting a win was controlling them and keeping them in check.”
Two numbers haunted UCA men’s coach Corliss Williamson in the loss to the Colonels.
Twenty-two turnovers and 21 Nicholls State points off turnovers.
That was the significant factor in the Colonels (2-9) halting a seven-game losing streak.
“I went in and wrote that on the board after the game, 22 turnovers, 21 points off those turnovers,” said Williamson. “We felt like that was the game. We didn’t take care of the basketball. When we got into the paint, we made bad decisions. And as a result, we gave Nicholls a chance to capitalize on those turnovers.
“You can’t do that on the road in Southland Conference play. I don’t know if was first conference game jitters or what, but we just kind of got away from what we have been doing all season. When we did attack the basket, we didn’t finish the layups. We started trying to make extra passes and we turned the basketball over.”
Fred Hunter, a senior guard for Nicholls State, scored 15 of his 19 points in the second half.
The Bears closed a nine-point deficit to just two points at 81-79 with 2.7 seconds left. But the Colonels got a pair of free throws from T.J. Carpenter with 1.9 remaining to seal the victory and break a seven-game losing streak.
UCA senior guard Robert Crawford topped the Bears with 21 points, hitting 4 of 7 shots from 3-point range. Senior forward Jarvis Garner added 18 points, but was 0 for 7 from beyond the arc as UCA hit just 7 of 23 3-point attempts (30.4 percent). Freshman Daouda Berete finished with 15 points and had a perfect shooting night, going 6 of 6 overall, 1 of 1 from three-point range and 2 of 2 from the line. He added 4 rebounds and 4 assists.
“We started slowly and Nicholls came out and knocked down some shots,” said Williamson. “We didn’t locate their shooters in the zone. But we tried to change the pace of the game and got into our full-court man with pressure and we were able to make a run and take the lead. Unfortunately we weren’t able to sustain that. We gave up some easy baskets and started turning the ball over.”
(UCA Sports Information contributed to this report)