The University of Central Arkansas Sugar Bears came out with no sweetness Friday against the Louisville Cards.
The 14th-seed UCA women smacked the third-seeded Cards right in the mouth at the outset, putting Louisville in a six-point deficit in the first quarter and leading 25-22 after the initial period.
The UCA women, making their first NCAA appearance, played with poise in that first period, executed nicely a game plan that forced the taller Cardinals out on the floor, and hit four of their first five 3-point attempts.
With strong shooting, they picked Louisville apart the first eight minutes.
No. 14 seeds are 0-89 against No. 3 seeds in the history of the NCAA women’s tournament. This was a free shot for the Sugar Bears.
After absorbing the initial flurry, the Cardinals did what a higher seed with superior talent is supposed to do. They found another gear and attacked and took control.
They outscored UCA, 29-9, in the second quarter, expanded the run to 33-9 early in the second half and cruised to an 87-60 victory.
"They dropped the hammer on the Central Arkansas offense," said ESPN analyst Andy Landers.
It was a sledge hammer.
Louisville, with nine of their first 12 players freshmen or sophomores, had more talent, more size, more depth and just about more everything except spunk.
And they had a frontline of 6-2, 6-3, 6-3. And the 6-2 player was Myisha Hines-Allen, the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of Year as a sophomore. She helped the Cardinals take over the game, scoring 25 points in 23 minutes. She played sparingly after the Cardinals got up by 20-plus.
"It’s like ‘we’ve got one of these and you don’t,’" Landers said about Hines-Allen.
There is a significant gap (particulary in size and overall athletic ability, between the top teams in women’s college basketball and the others.
All a lower seed, such as the Sugar Bears, can do is hold together and play their game.
The one word almost everyone described about the Sugar Bears was fight.
They had plenty of it even when the game got out of hand and entered mop-up time during the last quarter and a half.
It was on display in the final minutes with little-used senior Tyra Novokreshchenova swished a long range shot.
vbAll the UCA players jumped and shouted as if it were a game-winner.
That spunk helps explain why this Sugar Bear team, picked seventh in the Southland Conference in preseason, finished 28-4.
Landers is one of the pioneer coaches in college women’s basketball during a 36-year career at the University of Georgia.
He put things into perspective, partly because he liked saying Sugar Bears.
"This program was a Division II program 10 years ago, They weren’t eligible for postseason for the first four years because of the transition (to NCAA Division I," he said. "... They didn’t have as much nerves as I’ve seen most lower-seeded, first year teams in the tournament. They were where they dreamed about being."
In a 27-point loss to one of the top teams in the country, the foundation for a greater dream may have been laid.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 501-505-1235 or email@example.com)