KATY, Texas, — The University of Central Arkansas Sugar Bears, picked seventh in preseson, are on their way to the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament after defeating Sam Houston State, 69-62, for the Southland Conference title Sunday.

The UCA women (28-3) will learn their first-round opponent during the selection show Monday night on ESPN. A  watch party has been set for 5:45 p.m. at the Farris Center.

The upset-minded Bearkats (13-19) had knocked off No. 6 Nicholls, No. 3 Stephen F. Austin and No. 2 Northwestern State on their way to the championship game.

“This is huge for our program,” said UCA coach Rushing, who led teams to eight NCAA Division II tournament appearances in 10 years at Delta State. “I’m so happy for these seniors – they get the opportunity to experience something. They’ve laid the foundation, and it’s exciting to see them celebrate out there. It’s exciting, it’s something that’s been a goal. It’s something we talk about – you’ve got to dream big, then go out and work for it. And these players have worked for it. For me personally, I’m ecstatic. It’s fun, it’s exciting – it’s why you play the game, for championships.”

It’s the program’s first tournament championship and trip to an NCAA Tournament since 2005, when that year’s Sugar Bear team won the Gulf South Conference Tournament and advanced to the national semifinals of the Division II tournament en route to a 28-7 season.

“It’s surreal,” said Jameka Watkins, the lone four-year senior on this year’s team who last cut the nets as a two-time state champion at England  High School. “We’ve been working for it all year. It’s been a dream since we started in June. Now to actually do it is just … wow. For the four years I’ve been here, Coach Rushing has always told us she wants to build a program on championships, and getting it this year is a great feeling. I don’t even know how to explain it.”