After going where no University of Central Arkansas basketball team has gone before, the Sugar Bears are headed for Louisville in the NCAA Women’s Tournament.
UCA (28-3), after winning the Southland Conference tournament title Sunday with a 69-62 victory over Sam Houston State, drew a 14th seed by the NCAA Selection Committee and will play at third-seeded Louisville at 1:30 p.m. CT Friday. With the pod setup for the tourney, UCA is in the Dallas Region, which means it will play in Dallas if it wins the first- and second-round games at Louisville.
The winner of the UCA-Louisivlle game will play the winner of the DePaul-James Madison game on Sunday.
Baylor is the No. 1 seed in the Dalals Region. The other top seeds are UConn, South Carolina and Notre Dame.
The Sugar Bears, with a school-record 28 victories, didn’t have much time to celebrate Sunday’s historic SLC championship before learning of their NCAA matchup Monday night. The Sugar Bears are in the NCAA Divison I tourney for the first time.
As a Division II member in the Gulf South Conference UCA played in the NCAA II tourney in 2005. They advanced that year to the semifinals and finished 28-7.
"This is huge for our program," said coach Sandra Rushing, who guided Delta State team to NCAA II tourney appearances eight of 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 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."
"I feel like we leave a legacy behind, and that’s the main thing," said Kendara Watts. "That’s why I wanted to come to UCA in the first place. I saw here with the coaching staff and teammates, that we’d have the potential to be great, and I wanted to be a part of it."
(UCA Sports Information contributed to this report)