University of Central Arkansas basketball teams begin a two-game road swing Thursday that could have major ramifications in the postseason setup, particularly among the women.
The Bears and Sugar Bears play at Lamar on Thursday night and at McNeese on Saturday afternoon. They finish the season at home against Oral Roberts on Saturday, March 9.
The Bears (10-16, 4-11) are in eighth place in the SLC standings. Eight teams make the tournament. Of the teams behind them, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi is ineligible for the postseason and Lamar is 3-24, 1-13. UCA is 1.5 games behind McNeese State, which is in seventh place.
The Bears broke a four-game losing streak Saturday with an 80-78 victory over SIU-Edwardsville in a Bracketbusters game.
“We need the win going into this week,” said UCA coach Corliss Williamson. “Lamar is playing better and mathematically still in the race for the tournament. We can eliminate them and put ourselves in the tournament with a victory. If we can beat McNeese, we can move up a little in the standings with a chance for better seeding for the tournament.”
The top two teams in both the men’s and women’s division get a bye into the semifinals. Teams 5-8 will play the first day of the tournament and will have to win four games in four days to win the title.
That is particularly critical in the women’s race, where every team above the Sugar Bears is in the title chase.
The UCA women (14-12, 7-8) are in sixth place. The Sugar Bears are only a game ahead of both Northwestern State (11-15, 6-9) and Stephen F. Austin (11-15, 6-9). Those three teams, along with Nicholls State (16-9, 8-6), are the most likely 5-8 seeds and are projected to play the first day.
All three of the teams the Sugar Bears have remaining (Lamar and McNeese on the road and Oral Roberts at home) are in the hunt for first place and face critical games to determine whether they go into the tourney having to win two, three, or four games to win the title and the automatic NCAA berth. McNeese (14-11, 9-5) also faces holding off Nicholls State for the fourth spot and an extra day of rest for the tournament.
ORU (14-11, 11-4) has a half-game lead over Lamar (18-7, 10-4) and Sam Houston State (14-12, 10-4). McNeese is 1.5 games behind in fourth.
The Sugar Bears haven’t played since a loss on the road to Oral Roberts on Tuesday, Feb. 19.
“Our staff has spent a lot of time on the road trying to find players,” said UCA coach Sandra Rushing.
At Monday’s weekly Bearbacker luncheon, Rushing confirmed that senior Micah Rice, who has missed most of this season with a knee injury, has decided to take a medical hardship and redshirt this season.