After a historic run in 2015-16 in which the Universsity of Central Arkansas Sugar Bears win a program record 28 games and claim their first Southland Conference tournament championship en route to their debut appearance in the Division I NCAA tournament, UCA again expected to compete for the Southland crown as the Sugar Bears were selected second in the league’s preseason polls, announced Monday.
After a second-place finish last season, when they were 16-2 in conference play behind only Abilene Christian’s 17-1, the Sugar Bears are projected to be among the league’s elite again this season with four starters and seven players in all returning from last year’s team. The Sugar Bears were selected behind only the defending regular-season champion Wildcats by both the league’s coaches and sports information directors. The Sugar Bears received three first-place votes in the coaches poll and two in the SID poll, with ACU getting the remainder in each.
One of the primary reasons for the lofty expectations is the All-Southland duo of senior guards Maggie Proffitt and Brianna Mullins, both named to the league’s preseason all-conference teams. Proffitt was named to the first team and Mullins the second after being All-Southland performers in each of the last two seasons.
Proffitt was a first team All-Southland selection last season after averaging a team-high 14.2 points per game with a 36.0 3-point percentage and a program-record 89.4 free throw percentage. Proffitt enters her senior season with 1,161 career points (third in the program’s Division I history and 17th overall and is the program’s Division I career leader with 195 3-pointers made, 77 shy of breaking Carone Harris’ program record of 271 set in 2005 during the program’s Division II era.
Mullins is coming off a season in which she was one of just two Southland players to average at least 10 points, five rebounds and four assists per game during the conference season.
Along with Proffitt and Mullins, the Sugar Bears also return seniors Raquel Logan and Taylor Strickland, juniors Taylor Baudoin and Angel Williams, and sophomore Olivia McWilliams. Sophomore forward Tierney Paylor is out for the season after suffering an achilles injury in the preseason.
The Sugar Bears tip off the season Nov. 11 in the Farris Center against crosstown foe Hendrix, before hitting the road to take on No. 23 Texas A&M on Nov. 13 in College Station. The Sugar Bears will host 14 games in the Farris Center this season, and make non-conference trips to A&M, Texas Tech and Alcorn State along with neutral-site games against Houston and Liberty at UTSA before opening Southland play against Lamar on Dec. 31.
2016-17 SOUTHLAND CONFERENCE PRESEASON WOMEN’S BASKETBALL
1. Abilene Christian (10)142
2. Central Arkansas (3)135
3. Stephen F. Austin117
6. Northwestern State79
8. Houston Baptist68
9. Sam Houston State66
10. A&M-Corpus Christi60
11. New Orleans34
12. Southeastern Louisiana28
1. Abilene Christian (11)143
2. Central Arkansas (2)133
3. Stephen F. Austin119
T5. Northwestern State92
8. Houston Baptist73
9. Sam Houston State60
10. A&M-Corpus Christi57
11. New Orleans34
12. Southeastern Louisiana23
2016-17 SOUTHLAND CONFERENCE PRESEASON WOMEN’S BASKETBALL TEAMS
Alexis MasonSr.GAbilene Christian
Maggie ProffittSr.GCentral Arkansas
Taylor RossSr.GStephen F. Austin
Suzzy DimbaSr.FAbilene Christian
Randi BrownJr.GNew Orleans
Brianna MullinsSr.GCentral Arkansas
Sydney ShelsteadSr.FAbilene Christian
Beatrice AtturaSr.GNorthwestern State
Lizzy DimbaSr.FAbilene Christian