Those folks who are used to getting spice with their Sugar Bear basketball have been scratching their heads of late.
The UCA women returned to the Farris Center for a four-game homestand as the defending regular-season Southland Conference with a 22-game regular-season homecourt winning streak.
The Sugar Bears, who began the homestand in second place, went 1-3 on their homecourt and fell back into the pack in the league standings.
The explanation is simple. Basic basketball 101, reflected in the statistics.
Guards in basketball are like quarterbacks in football.
Every successful basketball team on every level must have productive scorers, catalysts, leaders (or all of the above) at guard.
The Sugar Bears guards have been turnover-prone, have not been able to create shots (inside or outside) and are suspect ballhandlers with questionable court awareness.
During recent games, the Sugar Bears have had star post Megan Herbert, one of the top scorers and rebounders in school history, play the point and often bring the ball upcourt. It wears her down. Herbert is not a great ballhandler but she is probably the best the Sugar Bears have as far as handling the basics and knowledge of how to set up the offense.
But, an All-America post is forced to play the point is not a good sign.
In a loss to Southeastern Louisiana, the Lady Lions had a 24-12 advantage in points off turnovers. In a loss to Nicholls State (which helped itself by shooting almost 70 percent from 3-point range), the UCA women had 24 turnovers that led to 21 points.
Herbert, Courtney Duever and Desiree Rogers had double-figure scoring performances against Nicholls State and Britney Gowans added nine. No other UCA player had more than two points. Against Southeastern Lousiana, Herbert and Duever combined for 53 points. No one among the eight Sugar Bears who played had more than three.
It’s obvious the UCA women miss dearly Nakeia Guiden (one of the most unsung good players in school history), who was a senior leader last season. Guiden was disruptive on defense, could transform defense to offense, could shoot from outside. She was at her creative best in penetrating and breaking apart a defense, either forcing a team to foul, allow a deep drive that could lead to a three-point play or dish to Herbert or Duever or Rogers for a point-blank inside shot.
The UCA women also miss the court awareness and leadership of Destinee Rogers, who is now on the bench as a graduate assistant coach.
Most of the season, they have missed Micah Rice, a senior guard and one of the team’s best clutch shooters and players. Rice, who has injured her knee twice this season, returned to practice Monday but if she’s able to play, she will likely be out of sync and out of shape most of the rest of the season. But her spunk and poise could help. But the next time she steps oncourt she will forfeit any possibility of a medical hardship year. Coach Sandra Rushing is leaving the decision up to her.
Rushing has hinted that she will make changes in the starting lineup for Thursday night’s road game against Stephen F. Austin. Sometimes, a change like that works. We’re not sure how well given the recent productivity of most of players not named Herbert or Duever.
Rushing is a coach in transition and it’s been frustrating for her. She’s a defensive-oriented coach with a team prone to defensive lapses. She took over in early summer. She inherited a veteran team that had been successful but had been built for the philosophy and style of Matt Daniel, who left for Marshall. Rushing has had the usual challenges of transitioning a team from a established style to a new one, and the pieces don’t exactly fit right to the new puzzle.
This week’s road swing to Stephen F. Austin, where a UCA women’s team has never won, and to Northwestern State, where they have usually have problems, will be critical.
During the stretch run of the season, the Sugar Bears face and treacherous and daunting series of games against league leader Sam Houston State and road games against top contenders Lamar and McNeese plus two games against Oral Roberts, another challenger for one of the top spots.
Rushing and her team remain determined and the Sugar Bears will give effort. It’s unclear whether the deficiencies can mitigated this season.
But the bleeding needs to be slowed to a trickle quickly.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 501-505-1235 or email@example.com)