The light wasn’t instantaneous.
It was more like a fluorescent bulb — you had to wait awhile for widespread illumination.
But the glow has returned to the University of Central Arkansas Sugar Bears, who applied a big time dosage of Murphy’s Law to Stephen F. Austin with a 65-42 victory Saturday.
It wasn’t terribly surprising the Sugar Bears defeated the Lady Jacks at home. It was the manner they did it — hitting them broadside with defense and team play.
UCA outscored SFA, 33-14, in the second half and it wasn’t that close. They had a run of 27-2 and held the Lady Jacks to 25 percent shooting.
With the Sugar Bears leading by three, senior post Courtney Duever took over the game with seven straight points — determination points — in less than two minutes early in the second half.
Then, a breakthrough became an avalanche. Brianna Mullins popped a lane basket with the shot clock running down, Brittany Agee drove for a three-point play, then Jameka Watkins scored off a steal.
In winning their fourth straight game, the UCA women got solid performances big plays up and down the lineup. The key was the big plays came from players playing the roles they needed to fill.
“It’s maturity,” said second-year coach Sandra Rushing, who is working with eight new players, most of them freshmen. “With young players, you’re going to have ups and downs and growing pains and right now, we’re on an up. ... One thing is our players know the shots they are supposed to take and what they are not supposed to take, and they’re taking the shots for the most part they are supposed to take. Out staff has done a good job of preparing them.”
The UCA women are steadied during some of the rough moments by senior post Courtney Duever and savvy senior point guard Micah Rice, who is finally blending nicely into her role after sitting out most of last year with a knee injury.
Then, there is an assortment of useful parts for different situations and matchups. Seven Sugar Bears got double-digit minutes Saturday and three others (Kelsei Ewings, Kelsey McClure and Tyisha Amos) did some little things in spot roles. Maggie Proffitt, who broke a scoring drought of greater than eight minutes with two straight 3-pointers late in the first half and scored 11 points, played three minutes and went scoreless the second half.
“It’s about playing the personnel that gives us the best matchups against the other team’s personnel and the players are starting to understand that,” Rushing said. “Our rotations are determined the best matchup.”
But the key thing that has occurred midway through Rushing’s second season is the Sugar Bears are understanding Rushing’s concept of defense, which is relentless and steady. They are the top defensive team in the Southland Conference.
Offense is fleeting; defense need not be. The UCA women are starting to turn defense into offense.
“Believe or not, there are things we can improve on on defense,” Rushing said. “But if the players continue to defend like this, games like this are gonna happen.”
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 501-505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on twitter @dmaclcd)