CONWAY, AR — 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.
Freshman Maggie Proffitt knocked down a pair of clutch 3-pointers in the second half and classmate Brianna Mullins put in a game-high 16 points as the Sugar Bears edged Sam Houston State 54-49 in front of 2,154 fans at the Farris Center.
But they needed senior Micah Rice to seal the deal.
Leading 52-49 with 38 seconds left, the Sugar Bears (18-8, 12-3 Southland) took possession after Angela Beadle missed on the other end for the Bearkats (11-15, 6-9). With time winding down on the shot clock, UCA head coach Sandra Rushing opted not to call timeout and signaled to Rice to take the shot.
With time winding down, Rice drove down the left hand side of the lane, split a pair of SHSU defenders and tossed in an off-balance layup to give the Sugar Bears a two-possession lead with eight seconds left and what would prove to be the game's final point.
"It's a shot I felt like I could make, and I just tried to get to the rim and attack and get a high-percentage shot," said Rice, whose late-game bucket was her only points of the evening. "I've been there before a few times during my career when we needed a shot to tie or get a lead or extend a lead to two possessions, so I had confidence in myself in that situation and just tried to relax and go knock down a big shot."
Rushing nearly called timeout on the possession, but opted to leave the ball in her senior guard's hands.
"I debated it, but now I'm sure glad I didn't," Rushing said. "We trusted the ball in our senior's hands, and she went out and she got it done. I'm really happy for this team. The crowd was great here on Greek Night and I really appreciate everybody coming out. This was exciting and a huge win. All I want to do is praise this team – they fought hard tonight to get this win."
With the Sugar Bears trailing by one, Proffitt drilled a 3 to give UCA a 45-43 lead with 4:32 left. With the game tied at 47, Jameka Watkins found Proffitt open at the top of the key for another 3-pointer to give the Sugar Bears the lead for good with 2:45 to play.
"Maggie hit some big shots for us tonight," Rushing said. "And I thought Terai Sadler, Brittany Agee both did a lot of good things. It wasn't pretty, but we got enough good things to happen to get a win. A win is a win, and that's all that matters."
Sadler had 11 points and six rebounds and Agee added eight points, five rebounds, a block and a steal.
The win puts the Sugar Bears in the driver's seat in the home stretch of the Southland Conference title race, giving them a two-game lead with three left to play. Lamar, which comes to the Farris Center on Saturday, lost at Oral Roberts on Thursday to fall to 10-5 in conference play - leaving Stephen F. Austin as the only team that could catch the Sugar Bears to share the title if UCA were to defeat Lamar Saturday.
The Sugar Bears will finish the regular season at SFA next Saturday, March 8.
"With Lamar losing, they're going to come in here angry on Saturday," Rushing said. "They're a very good, athletic team and everybody can score. They're still in the mix 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 Rice 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."