KATY, Texas – Clampdown.
It’s the one word to best describe the defensive effort of the Central Arkansas Sugar Bears, who shook off a slow start to seize control of Sunday’s Southland Conference Women’s Basketball Tournament in a 60-35 win over Stephen F. Austin at the Merrell Center, sending head coach Sandra Rushing’s program to the NCAA Tournament for a second straight year.
SFA, which averaged more than 77 points per game in conference play, was held to less than half that total as the Ladyjacks shot a frigid 27.3 percent from the field. After scoring baskets on three of their first four possessions, head coach Mark Kellogg’s team managed to find the nets just nine times the rest of the way.
"They’ve worked hard all year and never lost sight of the goal," said Rushing, whose squad won their 17th straight game and will learn their first-round destination on Monday night. "To do it back-to-back says a lot about this group of young ladies."
The NCAA women's Selection Show will be at 6 p.m Monday on ESPN. A Watch Party will be held for UCA fans at the at the Farris Center.
En route to improving to 21-1 in road/neutral games against Southland opponents over the past two seasons, the Sugar Bears (26-4) held conference Player of the Year Taylor Ross to just eight points before the SFA guard fouled out early in the fourth quarter.
The Sugar Bears' Maggie Proffitt was tournament MVP and Taylor Baudoin also made the all-tourney team
After spotting the Ladyjacks (25-7) a quick 5-0 lead, the Sugar Bears worked back into the contest, taking the lead for good on Maggie Proffitt’s three-pointer with 4:42 left in the first quarter. A three-point play by Stevi Parker allowed SFA to close within 13-12 at the 1:36 mark, but Central Arkansas scored the last five points of the quarter to own an 18-12 advantage.
"I feel like our guards did a great job of shutting down theirs," said Proffitt,.
"The second one was harder. A lot harder," said Rushing. "You win the first one, and people are hungry. You wonder if your players are still going to have that hunger in their gut, and they did."
To be able to represent both the conference and Central Arkansas is an honor that Rushing cannot wait to repeat, especially riding the school’s purple bus.
"That means a lot to us," she said. "I have so much pride getting on and off that bus and our players do, too. I want people to see we’re from UCA."