Clarence Finley saw the template.
His Bears came out and smacked it in the mouth. The Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks didn’t appear fazed.
After beginning Saturday’s game with high energy and a 9-0 run spurt while executing a good game plan, the Bears saw the Lumberjacks take their best shot, then methodically move on to a 66-49 victory at the Farris Center.
SFA (18-2, 7-0) is the best team in the Southland Conference and one of the best mid-major teams in the country. The Lumberjacks showed why. They had 18 assists for 23 field goals They had a 12-0 advantage in second-chance points and were 25-12 in bench points.
The Bears (4-14, 1-6), a poor free-throw shooting team without a true point guard and no inside scoring threat, actually played one of their best games of the season, hung for the longest despite their deficiencies.
But what they saw was a poised, confident and well-coached group. Brad Underwood, a Frank Martin disciple, replaced the legendary Danny Kaspar (who went to Texas State) and the Lumberjacks have not missed a beat. Overall, particularly offensively, they may be better. They look like an NCAA tourney team that could give higher-ranked opponents fits.
"They play the same way whether they are nine behind or nine ahead," said Finley, the interim coach of the UCA men. "Their ball movement is fantastic. They may not just pass the ball nine times a possession but maybe 20. They get in the right place. And they are a class program, good sportsmanship.
"They have the type of kids we want to get in our program. They are the type of program I want us to become."
Despite the uphills struggle this season and a short hand in personnel, Finley continues to work relentlessly, is more animated than ever on the sideline. He is staying positive and still hopes to have the interim removed from his title at the end of the season.
He has a vision and saw a lot in SFA of what he wants.
"I want kids who are bought into the program, offensively and defensively," he said. "I want kids who are bought in academically and are of high character. I want to get kids who want to be coached on both ends of the floor, rather than consider themselves ballers."
It’s a little thing but it reflects big things.
I often visit an opponent’s locker room after a game. Generally, the opposing team leaves it in good shape except for a few towels on the floor or benches. Only a handful have left it trashy.
Saturday, that locker room was spotless — with even the trash from a postgame meal neatly put away in a large trash can. There was almost nothing for the UCA cleaning crew to do.
That shows respect. It shows pride. It shows class.
There’s a reason SFA has won 18 games and it goes beyond the court.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 501-505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on twitter @dmaclcd)