LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The University of Central Arkansas Sugar Bears, a No. 14 seed in their first NCAA Division I Women’s Tournament, will try to make history Friday afternoon. A No. 14 seed is 0-88 against No. 3 seeds in the history of the tournament.
The UCA women will take on eighth-ranked Louisville (25-7), and winners of 24 of its last 26 games, at 1:30 p.m. on the Cardinals’ home court at the KFC Yum! in the first round of the Dallas Regional. The Sugar Bears (28-3) have already tied the program’s overall wins record and broken program records for wins in a Division I season, wins in a regular season, conference wins and claimed the program’s first Southland Conference Tournament championship and recorded the most wins in the Southland since 2000 – all despite being picked 7th in the Southland preseason polls. "It’s been an amazing journey with this group of young ladies," said UCA coach Sandra Rushing, who is leading a team into the Division I women’s tournament for the first time in her 27-year coaching career. "They’re a very special group. They’ve worked extremely hard this year, and I can’t say enough about this team, and I’m really happy, again, for the team, for our seniors, my coaching staff, our university and the city of Conway. To be the first (UCA basketball) to make it to the NCAAs says a lot about these young ladies and the price that they’ve paid this year." The Sugar Bears enter the tournament as one of six teams with at least 15 wins away from home this season, sitting at 15-1 in road and neutral-site games, having won the last 15 after the early-season loss at Tennessee. Only top-ranked UConn (19-0), No. 1 seed South Carolina (17-0) and Colorado State (16-1) have fared better away from their home courts this season.
The Cardinals have had great success in the NCAA tournament, and as a 3 seed in recent years have advanced to one Final Four (2009), another Elite Eight (2014) and last year went to the Sweet 16.
"They’re at home, and they do a lot of things well," Rushing said. "My concern is our players being on the big stage for the first time. I want them to go in and realize, hey, we’ve got to give it our best shot. Louisville is going to push the ball. They’re going to D us up. When we shoot the ball, we’ve got to relax, and when we get an open shot, we’ve got to take that open shot because we don’t need to just continue — make some passes that we’ve been been able to make in the past. We’ve got to cut down our passing, our long passes, and we’ve got to try to get to the rim."
The Cardinals play in the highly regarded Atlantic Coast Conference. One of their two defeats since Dec. 10 has been a five-point loss to Notre Dame, a No. 1 seed in the tournament.
Louisville coach Jeff Walz, who has kept his distance from his team this week because of sickness, has mounted a social media campaign to drum up support for the afternoon contest.
He urged local businesses to let their employees off for the afternoon game and said he’d write those supervisors a letter requesting it as well.
"It’s been great the number of responses I’ve been getting," he told the Louisivlle Courier-Journal. "I’ve made phone calls and have actually had three or four I’ve been on the phone with that will let four or five from their businesses come down - just try to do whatever I can to try to create some buzz and get some fans to come down."
The winner gets the winner of the James Madison-DePaul game Sunday.