NORMAN, Okla. — Fresh off a eight-day holiday break, the University of Central Arkansas Bears draw their third Big 12 opponent tonight in their final non-conference tuneup.
The Bears (4-8) will face the Oklahoma Sooners (6-6) at 7 p.m. at the Lloyd Noble Center and in front of a television audience on KATV2 (Conway Corp. Channel 171) back in Arkansas.
"I think our guys came back refocused and with more energy," UCA coach Corliss Williamson said. "They had a chance to get away from the game, get away from school and see their families. We’re very pleased with the focus and energy they brought to practice the past few days since we returned."
The Bears went to the break off an 81-67 victory over Lyon College last Tuesday at the Farris Center. Williamson said it was the ideal sendoff after a brutal non-conference schedule that included two other Big 12 teams in Missouri and Oklahoma State, as well as a trip to Hawaii.
"I talked to the guys about going to the break with a positive feeling, and we definitely accomplished that," said Williamson, in his first season as UCA’s head coach. "We were able to win that last game, so they didn’t have to go home and worry about me fussing at them or worry about a loss. They were able to go home on a positive note and hopefully that’s something that we’re able to build on."
The Bears open Southland Conference play at home on Jan. 8 against Lamar, so they plan to use the Oklahoma game as their one and only chance to get back in sync before league play begins.
"We have conference coming up next, so what better way to jump back into the fire than with a talented Oklahoma team," Williamson said. "This way we don’t have an opportunity to come out flat. We have to be ready to play. It’s going to be a big test for us, but hopefully our guys are up to it and it will prepare us for conference play."
Oklahoma will not present as big a challenge, literally, as did Missouri and Oklahoma State, but will still be a handful, according to Williamson.
"I tell you what, they look pretty tough," he said. "They’re probably down a little bit I guess from what they’ve been in the past, but they’re good. They start four guards and one big guy inside. So we match up well height-wise, but we just have to make sure that we’re able to handle their four perimeter players in the game at once."
The Bears, who have used six different starting lineups this season, may be a little short at the guard position for this game. Sophomore Jeff Jackson is no longer with the team because of an academic issue and freshman Ryan Williams, who has started four games, has a groin injury. Junior Dewan Clayborn, who started nine games, has missed the last three with an injury.
Senior guard Imad Qahwash continues to lead the Bears in scoring, coming off the bench for 12.3 points per game. Four other players average at least nine points a game, including Clayborn, junior forward Chris Henson, junior forward Mark Rutledge and senior center Carlos Dos Santos.