University of Central Arkansas basketball coaches Matt Daniel and Rand Chappell reflected on the challenges Monday of the stretch run of the Southland Conference season.

The Sugar Bears (19-6, 9-3) are battling Stephen F. Austin for the Southland Conference East title. Although UCA is ineligible for the postseason conference tournament, the turnaround of 13 victories from last season marks the biggest turnaround in NCAA Division I this season. Daniel said Monday at the weekly Bearbackers luncheon that the Sugar Bears’ game at SFA on March 3 could be the SLC’s selection for a "wild card" game on its television package. 

"That’s says a lot because it’s a women’s game and they are not often televised and it speaks a lot for what we are trying to do," Daniel said.

With Saturday’s victory over Texas-Arlington, the Bears are 4-2 against the league’s West Division, normally the dominant one. 

"The East Division is 8-18 against the West and four of those victories are us," Daniel said. "In the last four years, UTA has defeated us by 29, 22 and 31 points. So beating them eight at their place is another sign of progress."

The Sugar Bears’ RPI is 204, which is an 100-point improvement over last season. And Daniel said there is an outside chance the Sugar Bears could get into the WNIT field if they win their division. The WNIT this year will consist of 65 teams that do not make the 64-team NCAA field. UCA is ineligible for the NCAA tournament because of the Division transition. 

"Just to be in that (WNIT) conversation is quite astounding," Daniel said.

With an 8-18 record and nowhere to go after the regular-season, Chappell said this is the toughest time of the season for his team and has been for the last four years with no prospect of an NCAA bid.

"When you are out of the postseason picture, it is hard to get better," Chappell said. "When you’re not going anywhere, it’s hard to get a drive every day to stay focused and get better. A lot of teams we’re playing have something to play for and are getting better. Our guys are driving and trying to get better, but there is not a whole lot of gold at the end of the rainbow."

Even though the Bears shot horrendously from the field in a 71-47 loss Saturday to UT Arlington, Chappell said he saw some good things.

"Chris Poellnitz was 2-of-12, but he also had a career high 10 rebounds, which indicates he was giving effort," Chappell said. "Jared Rehmel was 2-of-10 but took two or three charges, which indicates he was still trying hard. Tadre Sheppard was giving effort all over the court. Dewan Clayborn and Carlos Dos Santos were diving on the floor for balls the second half. We didn’t make baskets, but we didn’t lay down; we were competing."

The Sugar Bears will host Nicholls State on Wednesday, while the Bears will play the Colonels at Thibodaux, La.