By DAVID MCCOLLUM

LOG CABIN STAFF WRITER

University of Central Arkansas Sugar Bear coach Sandra Rushing grimaced when she saw the stat.

In Thurday’s 77-61 loss to McNeese State, the Cowgirls had a 20-4 advantage in fast-break points.

"I’m a defensive coach and that’s unacceptable," she said. "We work on that every day. That’s effort. And we’re facing another team (Lamar) Saturday that is athletic and gets up and down the court."

The UCA women and men host Lamar on Saturday in a doubleheader beginning at 2 p.m.

THE STREAK: The victory, in almost a must-win situation for the Cowgirls (9-9, 4-3), ended a 22-game home court winning streak by the Sugar Bears, which was the third longest in the nation going into Thursday.

THE SITUATION: Two of the Southland Conference tri-leaders, UCA and Lamar, lost Thursday night, making Sam Houston State the sole leader in the women’s race at 6-1. UCA and Lamar are 5-2.

THE START: The Cowgirls began the game with a 20-4 run. After UCA narrowed that to 34-32 at the half, McNeese State used some inside baskets by 6-foot-1 Cecilia Okoye (21 points) to take a double-digit lead in the first eight minutes of the second half, then turned things over to the Baggett twins, Ashlyn and Caitlyn, to drive, create and hit free throws the rest of the game to win going away.

"It’s been a long time since I’ve had a team start that lackadaisical at the beginning of a big game," Rushing said. "Our defense was non-existent the whole game. We were a step slow. We stood and watched the ball, didn’t get into our defensive stance and they did exactly what they wanted to do."

"We’ve had good spurts and have had great moments but we haven’t been able to tough it out after the other team made a run," said McNeese State coach Brooks Donald Williams. "After we withstood Courtney Duever taking it to us (11 points the first half) and they made a run, we toughed it out and pulled away."

NUMBERS: Only three UCA players (Duever, Megan Herbert and Desiree Rogers) scored the first half. Duever scored only two points the second half in closing with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Herbert scored the second half and was not a dominant factor in the game with 14 points and 12 rebounds. Rogers scored 23 points. UCA was outscored 48-34 in the paint and 14-4 in bench points. With the Cowgirls packing inside against the Sugar Bears’ inside players, UCA’s guards were a combined 4 of 21 from the field. UCA was three of 15 from 3-point range.

"We had two people on the floor with any significant minutes from last year (Herbert and Rogers)," said Rushing. Megan and Desiree are playing a lot of minutes and Micah (injured guard Micah Rice) is not out there. We can’t live in the past. This is a new team."

20 SECONDS: The last 20 seconds was a microcosm of the game for the Sugar Bears for both execution and clock management. The Sugar Bears led, 32-31, when Tracey Parsons missed badly on a premature shot. Jaylin Johnson then beat Parson downcourt for a layup, drawing a foul and turning it into a three-point play to give the Cowgirls a 34-32 halftime lead.

MCNEESE: The Cowgirls, the defending SLC tournament champions, had five players in double figures: Okoye, 21; Caitlyn Baggett, 18; Ashlyn Baggett, 14; Johnson, 12; and Alaina Verdin, 10. Beyond Rogers, Herbert and Duever, no UCA player had more than four points among the 10 others who played.

(David McCollum can be reached at 501-505-1235 or david.mccollum@thecabin.net)