WACO. Texas — Rarely has a team seen so many positive vibes from a 31-point defeat.
But University of Central Arkansas Sugar Bear coach Sandra Rushing came away feeling encouraged after the 86-55 loss at the Ferrell Center to No. 3-ranked Baylor, the highest-ranked team UCA has ever played in Division I. The Lady Bears were averaging 110 points a game in opening victories over Lamar (the Southland Conference favorite) and Coppin State.
The Sugar Bears (1-1) led for nearly 4:30 and were outscored by just five, 36-31, in the first and third quarters combined. Entering the final quarter trailing by 16 against a Lady Bears squad that had won its first two games over Southland Conference foe Lamar and Coppin State by an average of 52.5 points. Baylor closed with a 15-2 run.
Rushing was pleased with how the UCA women kept things with 20 points going into the fourth quarter.
"That’s what I’m proud of. I’m serious," Rushing said. "I’m proud of our players … It was fun. It was a great experience to be on the big stage. That’s where we want to end up. We’ve been fortunate in the last couple of years to go to the NCAA tournament, and that’s fun. Of course, if we have the opportunity to go again this year, I definitely don’t want to play Baylor. But, that’s what we’re working for. You want your young kids, and I have eight new players, to experience something like this.
"It was a great experience, but we’ve got a long way to go. I’m very proud of our players. Very proud. We’re small, but we fought, and that’s all you can ask coming in and playing Baylor."
UCA junior guard Kamry Orr had a game-high 23 points while also adding four assists, and was seven of seven from the free- throw line. Senior forward Taylor Baudoin narrowly missed a double-double, getting 13 points and nine rebounds. Senior center Kierra Jordan had 11 points, six rebounds and two assists in 25 minutes before fouling out.
Baylor junior All-Smerican center Kalani Brown, the preseason Big 12 Player of the Year had 19 points and 11 rebounds in 32 minutes, and Lauren Cox – last season’s Big 12 Sixth Man of the Year – had 21 and 10. The taller Lady Bears had a 41-23 advantage in rebounds and 54-12 in points in the paint and 20-4 in points off turnovers.
"Wow. They’re big, fast, and good," Rushing said. "There was nothing we could do. Everything that we tried to do, they had something for. This was a great experience for our program. It was a lot of fun, not to get beat as bad as we did, but to come in here and play Baylor. I’ve always had respect for coach (Kim) Mulkey and her program and what she’s accomplished. And this is first class. Everybody was so friendly and so helpful. They run a first-class program."
UCA (1-1) returns home Monday to host Alcorn State.
"Kim Mulkey was very complimentary of our team and how hard we played and that we run some good things. She joked about how ‘y’all don’t usually shoot that many 3s,’ but I told her "we had to, playing against y’all.’ But she was very complimentary of our players and coaching staff and I really appreciate that because she’s such a legendary coach. It’s always great to come in and have our program represented in the way that our players did tonight. They played extremely hard."