Before Senior Day celebrations Saturday, the University of Central Arkansas basketball teams had a lot to celebrate Thursday night.
Couple with Oral Roberts’ victory over Lamar, the Sugar Bears (18-8, 12-3) took a two-game lead in the Southland Conference race with three games to go. They can clinch at least a tie for the regular-season title with a victory over Lamar on Saturday in a 2 p.m. game at the Farris Center.
The Bears (4-11, 7-19) stunned the second-place Bearkats, 80-71, and will try to win two in a row for the first time this season in a 4:30 p.m. game against the last-place Cardinals, who have already dismissed coach Pat Knight.
Thursday night It will be Senior Day for Central Arkansas when the Sugar Bears host Lamar for a shot at a piece of the Southland Conference women’s basketball championship. But Thursday night belonged to the freshmen.
A share of the regular-season title will give the Sugar Bears a bye into the SLC tournament.
If the Sugar Bears defeat Lamar, Stephen F. Austin, which they play on Saturday, March 8, is the only team that could catch them for the regular-season championship.
“With Lamar losing, they’re going to come in here angry on Saturday,” said UCA coach Sandra Rushing. “They’re a very good, athletic team and everybody can score. They’re still in the mix (10-5 in the league) and they’ll be fired up knowing they need a win. We’re going to have to play better than what we did tonight and take care of the ball.”
Saturday will be Senior Day for Micah Rice, whose off-balance layup with eight seconds left clinched the victory over the Bearkats, and Courtney Duever, who have already celebrated one championship in the Farris Center.
“I hope I’ve got a little more luck on Saturday,” Rice said. “I’m excited about Senior Day and what’s at stake and trying to keep building momentum heading to Katy (for the Southland tournament). Playing my last game in the Farris, I’m a little sad but also happy that I’ve had a great career. I’m just looking forward to putting on one last show for the Sugar Bear fans in the Farris Center.”
UCA (7-19, 4-11) had four players in double figures, led by senior guard LaQuentin Miles with 24 points and 12 rebounds, his eighth career double-double. Miles scored 13 points in the first half, leading the Bears to a 38-34 halftime lead. They never trailed in the second half as fellow senior DeShone McClure scored 11 of his 14 points after halftime.
UCA snapped a four-game losing streak.
The Bearkats fell to 19-8, 11-4.
It was UCA’s first victory over Sam Houston in the 12th career meeting.
“They (the Bears) really want to win these last few games,” said coach Clarence Finley. “They’re starting to pay attention to the details. We’re going to try to finish strong. We have Senior Day coming up and we want to send these two seniors, LaQuentin Miles and DeShone McClure with a bang.”
Lenell Brown finished with 11 points and Jalen Jackson had 10 for the Bears. UCA outrebounded SHSU, 48-35, pulling down 14 offensive rebounds and scoring 18 second-chance points. Four players had at least seven rebounds for the Bears. UCA also blocked nine shots, one short of tying the season high.
The Senior Day ceremonies for Miles and McClure will begin shortly after the women’s game.
(UCA Sports Information contributed to this report)