The ripples that turned into a wave and a three-game winning streak started in a huddle in the coastal city of Corpus Christi.
University of Central Arkansas coach Corliss Williamson was upset his team was not playing what he considered "Central Arkansas basketball." He thought his team was mired in a slump because it was playing at the other team’s pace rather than pushing the tempo, which had been successful for the Bears earlier in the season.
After the Bears gave up four offensive rebounds in a row against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Williamson called time and went off.
"I gave them an earful during a timeout — glad there were not microphones," said Williamson.
From that moment, the Bears became a different team. They rallied to defeat the Islanders.
"It was a conference win on the road, which gave us confidence," Williamson said. "Then, last Tuesday and Wednesday, we had some of our worst practices on the year."
Then Thursday, the Bears played a game and three-quarters in defeating McNeese State in three overtimes in one of the most exciting games in recent years at the Farris Center. Jarvis Garner provided the spectacular by hitting back-to-back long 3-point baskets to force the first and second overtime. In the third overtime, freshmen Daouda Berette and DeShone McClure came off the bench for strong minutes, offensively and defensively, and 6-foot-8 center Anthony Borden had his most assertive and effective moments as a Bear.
What was significant was the Bears, while making a lot of mistakes and while being on the ropes several times, grinded it out, made big plays and little plays and found a way to win — something they had struggled with during two years and change in Williamson’s tenure as a head coach.
By his team winning a game they had several chances to lose, Williamson saw lights come on.
"It was a different mindset in the locker room," he said. "You could see it in their faces. I was hesitant to say we had turned a corner, but the players were finally believing they could win if they played hard all the time."
Saturday, against a Lamar team that was winless in Southland Conference play, the Bears had their foot on the accelerator from the beginning and romped to an 88-59 victory over the Cardinals. That was significant not only because it was the first time UCA had defeated Lamar in basketball in 11 tries, but it was the first time the Bears have won three straight conference games since joining NCAA Division I."
During a rare game when Williamson was able to clean his bench, Williamson saw 12 of his 14 players score points.
What he also saw was his regulars cheering on the subs during an extended mopup time.
"Our bench stayed focused and stayed in the game rather than just sitting back and taking a breather," he said.
Afterwards, during an extended handshake conversation with Lamar coach Pat Knight, "He told me the reason we have won three straight games is that we’re playing harder than anybody in the league," Williamson said.
Playing hard. Grinding through adversity. Coming off the ropes. Finding ways to win.
The Bears are becoming more and more the reflection of their coach.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 501-505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org)