HUNTSVILLE, TX — For the second straight game, Central Arkansas built a big lead against Sam Houston State only to have the Bearkats make a late rally. But, just as they did on Saturday, the Sugar Bears found a way to stave off the Bearkats again on Thursday as they notched a 64-56 victory and punched their ticket to the Southland Conference Tournament for the fifth straight year.
“I’m happy with this win and getting back to the tournament,” said UCA head coach Sandra Rushing, whose team has qualified for the 8-team league tournament in Katy, Texas in each of her three seasons at the helm. In all, the Sugar Bears have made the tournament in each of their five seasons eligible for Division I postseason play and are one of just four teams to make the field in each of the last five seasons.
“I’m really proud of our effort tonight and I thought we did a good job defensively in the first half,” Rushing said. “And, even though we made some mental mistakes down the stretch that we have to correct, we were able to get the win on the road and get into the tournament.”
With the win, the Sugar Bears (16-11, 9-6 Southland) move into a tie for sixth place with Texas A&M-Corpus Christi with three games remaining. Those teams sit just a half game back of 10-6 McNeese State and Northwestern State, and a game back of 10-5 Nicholls while Stephen F. Austin (12-2) and Lamar (12-4) currently occupy the top two seeds.. The Sugar Bears will close out the regular season with a two-game road trip to Nicholls and McNeese next week.
In securing their spot in the tournament and ensuring their seventh .500 or better season in nine seasons of Division I play, the Sugar Bears dealt the Bearkats (6-19, 5-10) their fifth straight defeat and knocked them into a tie with Houston Baptist for the eighth and final spot in the conference tournament.
After going nearly five minutes without a score to open the game, the Sugar Bears rallied with a 15-0 run midway through the first half, closed on a 24-9 run and went into the locker room with a 31-20 lead after shooting 43.3 percent. They would lead by as many as 17 in the second half, but just as they did in Conway on Saturday, the Bearkats went on a run and chipped away at the UCA lead – eventually drawing within as few as six in the final minute. But from that point, the Sugar Bears were 7 of 8 at the free throw line as they kept the Bearkats at bay and improved to 4-3 in conference road games this season.
Maggie Proffitt had 18 points for the third straight game to lead the Sugar Bears, while Terai Sadler tied her career high with 17, adding 6 rebounds as well. Kendara Watts had 15 points and led the Sugar Bears with 7 rebounds, while Jameka Watkins had a game-high 6 assists.
Though UCA was outrebounded 35-32 and had 8 offensive rebounds to the Bearkats’ 12, the Sugar Bears led in second-chance points 13-11, and scored 17 points off of 14 Bearkat turnovers.
Saturday’s 2:00 p.m. game against Southeastern Louisiana in the Farris Center will be the final home game for seniors Sadler and Brittany Agee, both in their second year with the Sugar Bears.