The injury bug took a couple of bites out of the University of Central Arkansas Sugar Bears last week.
First, guard Westin Taylor, the team’s 3-point shooting specialist, tore an ACL in practice before Saturday’s game at Sam Houston State and is lost for the remainder of the season. In the Sam Houston game, Britney Gowins, who had ignited a run, severely injured an ankle while crashing against a goal support after a steal and a layup. Her status is uncertain.
The Sugar Bears (15-10, 7-5), who have lost two in a row, are in third place in the Southland Conference’s East Division, a game ahead of Northwestern State. One victory in the remaining four games should clinch a spot in the conference’s postseason tournament at Katy, Texas.
"As a young team, we are learning that we aren’t sneaking up on anyone," coach Matt Daniel said at Monday’s weekly Bearbacker luncheon. "In fact, we are being targeted. Teams are preparing well for us. The quicker we understand that, the better we will be."
The Sugar Bears play at Nicholls on Wednesday night before returning home for a Saturday game against Southeastern Louisiana.
The UCA women led Nicholls 50-16 at the half in an earlier game in Conway.
"But it won’t be that type of game down there," Daniel said. "We played about as good a first half of basketball as you can play in that game. The second half was 41-40 and more of a roller-coaster, which is probably what it will be Wednesday.
"Nicholls is next to least in our division but the postseason tournament is still a possibility for them if they can go 3-1, including beating UCA, the rest of the way. So, they are still playing with a purpose. And we are not playing great basketball on either end of the floor right now."
Twenty-eight turnovers helped doom the Sugar Bears in a 66-54 loss Saturday at Sam Houston State.
"We got behind in the first half, got back in it, took the lead, then missed two defensive assignments that led to breakaway baskets and we never recovered after that," Daniel said.
: The 2 p.m. game Saturday against Southeastern Louisiana will be the Sugar Bears’ "Pink Zone" game for breast cancer awareness. The UCA home baseball game against Eastern Illinois has been moved to a 4 p.m. start so fans can attend both events.
The lobby of the Farris Center will be open at noon for various health screenings and informational booth by community health agencies.
At halftime, the UCA administration will take on the City of Conway administration in a "shootout" competition.
The Bears used a 22-8 run to tie Sam Houston at 62 in the final two minutes before the Bearkats made eight straight free throws down the stretch to win 70-62 Saturday at the Farris Center.
"Our guys really fought hard," said UCA coach Corliss Williamson after the Bears lost their 20th game (and sixth in a row) with only five wins. "Our guys could half easily folded their tents. I was very disappointed in the effort in the last home game when so many fans came out in the snow to watch us. The effort was good this time. I believed we were gonna win the game."
The Bears made only three 3-point attempts the second half, which Williamson said was a key to them getting back in the game.
"We are not a good 3-point shooting team, and I feel we are a better team when we stop shooting 3’s," Williamson said. "When we shoot a lot of 3’s, we are not getting to the free-throw line, we don’t get many offensive rebounds and it allows the other team to get fast-break points."
UCA forward Tadre Sheppard, whose one rebound was his only line on the stat sheet the first half, finished with 16 points on 6-of-7 shooting from the field the second half that included four of four from the foul line and a block in 15 minutes of play. Post Carlos Dos Santos "really upped his game," said Williamson, noting he had seven rebounds, three assists and three blocks.
"Mike Pouncy (13 points, eight rebounds and two assists) continues to play his heart out," Williamson said.
Dewan Clayborn had one of his best games with 10 points, three assists and two steals.
The Bears scored 18 points in the paint the second half after only eight the first half.
The UCA men host Nicholls on Wednesday before traveling to Southeastern Louisiana on Saturday.
"If we continue to play with that type of effort, that type of energy and that type of heart, we’ll set the tone for the teams of the future here," Williamson said.