A year ago, the University of Central Arkansas Bears opened the basketball season by taking No. 18 UCLA to overtime before losing at historic Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles.
The Bears will open the 2018-19 season with another big name, this time from the Southeastern Conference.
UCA will face the Missouri Tigers on Nov. 6 at Mizzou Arena in Columbia, Missouri.
That is just one of six big-name schools on the UCA schedule this season, along with Pittsburg, Louisville, New Mexico, Indiana and Oklahoma State.
"The thing we try to do, if we can, is give our guys experiences at the different Power 5 conferences,” fifth-year coach Russ Pennell said. "Last year, the theme was obviously kind of Pac-12, this year it's a little more Midwest, with some ACC mixed in there. Obviously, we have to play these games to help the school, but it also helps us. It helps us in recruiting, I think it helps me in coaching.
"Because in preseason, you talk about keeping their attention... they know what they are about to to get into.”
After opening with the Tigers, UCA will have consecutive home games against cross-town rival Hendrix and the University of the Ozarks on Nov. 8 and Nov. 12, respectively.
The Bears make a return trip to Pittsburgh on Nov. 15 before heading to Troy on Nov. 18 and St. Louis University on Nov. 24.
"This year, we tried to balance it out a little bit more,” Pennell said, whose team won a Division I-era high of 18 games a year ago. “And, the biggest reason we played some of the lower division teams this year is we needed some home games the first semester. I think we're at a point now where it's OK to play those games. I never wanted to manipulate our record before when we were not very good, but I think we're at a point now where people understand what we're doing and what we're about.
"We do need to get some guys in the game, we do need to get some confidence, but we're still not ducking anybody.”
Beginning with the opener against Missouri, which won 20 games and made the NCAA Tournament last season under coach Cuonzo Martin, including a 69-60 win over Kentucky.
"Cuonzo kind of put them back on solid ground last year,” Pennell said. "They lost the (Michael) Porter kid and they lost a couple of guys but they are still going to be good. They got some good recruits. That will be a fun opener for us, getting to play someone that the people in Arkansas are familiar with. I think that's a big thing for us.”
The first of two meetings with in-state rival Little Rock is set for Nov. 28 at the Farris Center, followed by a trip to the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville to take on the Cardinals on Dec. 5.
The rematch with Little Rock at the Stephens Center in Little Rock is Dec. 8.
"That (Louisville game) will be an interesting game because it's probably the most high-profile game we have,” Pennell said. "They'll be a lot of attention on Louisville this year because of the coaching situation they've had, and when you play teams like that, you'll probably get a little national attention just by playing them. I think that's a great trip for our guys, getting to play a team that has won national championships and where basketball is still the king.”
The Bears will then hit the road for three big matchups at three storied venues, starting with a return trip to New Mexico's The Pit on Dec. 16, followed by Indiana's Assembly Hall on Dec. 19 and Gallagher-Iba Arena at Oklahoma State on Dec. 21.
"I think of everyone we're playing, Indiana will be the best team,” Pennell said. "Because (coach) Archie Miller has had a year there, and they signed a Top 10 guard in this class that's really good. He's a one-and-done type kid. That program is definitely not in shambles. That will be a very, very difficult game.
"But nonetheless, that's a historic place to play. That's one of the few places I've never coached in. So, I'm excited about that, and excited for our players to get to play in Assembly Hall.”
The Bears will play the OSU Cowboys for the fourth time in the past eight seasons in Stillwater.
"We played awfully well there two years ago,” Pennell said. "We had a free throw to take the lead with about eight minutes to go and ended up losing by 10 or 12. But we played well. That's a nice trip for our fans and a neat place for our guys to play.”
The Southland Conference season begins on Jan. 2 at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.
UCA hosts Sam Houston State on Jan. 9 for its first home conference matchup.
The 2019 SLC Tournament will be held March 13 through 17 at the Merrell Center in Katy, Texas.
"I think it's a really good schedule,” Pennell said. "It will be challenging, but we think our team needs that and is ready for that.”