The University of Central Arkansas Sugar Bears won their 24th straight regular-season on their home court Thursday night, continued their best start ever (3-0) in Southland Conference play and received championship rings from last season.
Still, first-year women’s coach Sandra Rushing was not a happy camper.
The Sugar Bears (10-3, 3-0), behind 20 points by Megan Hebert, almost flawless surged to a 38-21 halftime lead over Stephen F. Austin.
The Lady Jacks (6-9, 1-3) dominated in almost every phase the second half and led by six (51-45) with 5:29 left. A late surge by post Courtney Duever helped the UCA women escape with a 57-54 victory. They had to watch a 3-point attempt at the buzzer by Tierney Henderson bounce off the rim to finally breathe easier. SFA didn’t score a field goal in the final 5:29.
“That second half was absolutely ugly,” said Rushing. “We did just enough to win. We hadn’t had a close game in awhile, so we needed to figure out how to win a close game.”
NEXT: Northwestern State (5-9, 1-3) visits the Farris Center on Saturday for a 2 p.m. game.
“If we are going to accomplish our goals this season, we’ve got to learn to put a 40-minute game together,” Rushing said. “I don’t think we’re out of shape. It’s mental and we’re working on the mental process.”
DO-OVER: The 6-foot-1 junior post took over down the stretch. She scored eight straight points, giving the Sugar Bears the lead for good with a 12-footer in the lane with 3:03 left. She also block a shot and got two key rebounds in the final two minutes, one in which she fought off several Lady Jacks after a missed free throw with UCA up 56-54 with 25 seconds left. She finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
HERBERT: UCA’s senior post was harassed by a sagging zone defense in the second half, scoring only six points in the period. She did not have an offensive rebound and finished with seven overall. “One problem we had was when we are not hitting outside (9 of 25 the second half), we need to take it to the Player of the Year,” Rushing said. “We did not go inside enough.”
SFA: The Lady Jacks outscored UCA 17-2 in bench points. The Sugar Bear bench is depleted with a knee injury to Micah Rice plus Chantel Moss left the court limping with a knee injury in the first half. Annette Davis, a 6-1 forward, came off the bench for SFA to score 15 points with seven rebounds. She gave the Sugar Bears fits down low along with 5-10 Daylyn Harris, who had 15 points. “That is a very talented, very athletic team,” Rushing said. “They have a great high-low and we lost focus on that,” Rushing said. “I told our team at halftime they were a great second-half team and we couldn’t get complacent because things may have come too easily the first half.
“Basically, everything was out of sync for us the second half.”
RINGS: During halftime of the men’s game, the Sugar Bears received their rings for winning the Southland Conference regular-season title last year. A video of that ceremony can be viewed at: www.thecabin.net.