Just days after finishing up their semester exams, the University of Central Arkansas Bears have another big test in front of them Sunday when they take on the No. 23/24 Oklahoma State Cowboys at 3 p.m. at Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater, Okla.
The Bears (4-3) put together a three-game winning streak –— including an 88-85 road win over Southeast Missouri last Saturday — before taking the week off for final exams. They return to take on the 7-1 Cowboys in a tough environment, an arena where OSU has fashioned a 317-45 record since the 1988-89 season. Of OSU’s last 12 losses at home, nine have been to Top 25 opponents. OSU has also won 177 of its last 181 non-conference games.
"We know how tough a task this will be," said UCA head coach Corliss Williamson, who took the Bears to Gallagher-Iba Arena in 2010. "The Cowboys are always tough, especially at home. But we look at it as a great opportunity to get better as a team and to improve as players. We’re looking forward to the challenge."
The Cowboys won the only other meeting between the teams 69-57 back on Dec. 1, 2010. UCA has only one player remaining on the roster that played in that contest, junior guard Ryan Williams, who had nine points off the bench in the loss. OSU’s Markell Brown, now a junior guard, had two points in the earlier meeting and is the only Cowboy still on their roster.
UCA is a different team now than in 2010, one that is leading the Southland Conference in 3-point shooting at 40.8 percent. UCA has three players ranked in the top 10 in the league from beyond the arc. Senior Robert Crawford, from Broken Arrow, Okla., is second at 54.3 percent, while Williams is fourth (50.0) and senior Jarvis Garner is tied for ninth (37.5).
Crawford, the SLC Player of the Week last week, is coming off a career-game against SEMO, where he scored 39 points, hitting 7 of 9 from three-point range, 12 of 15 overall and 8 of 8 from the free-throw line. Williams, from Pine Bluff, had a career-high 20 points in the previous game, a win over UT Martin at the Farris Center.
Crawford is averaging 15.2 points per game, good for third in the conference, while three others average in double figures. Junior guard LaQuentin Miles, a preseason All-SLC first-team selection, is at 13.9, while Garner averages 13.7 and junior forward Jordan Harks 11.1. Garner and Harks lead the Bears in rebounding at 6.9 and 5.4, respectively.
OSU counters with three players averaging at least 13 points per game, led by 6-foot-7 sophomore forward Le’Bryan Nash at 16.3. The Cowboys are the only team in the Big 12 Conference that has three players ranked in the Top 11 in the league in scoring. Nash is second, while Brown is tied for seventh (14.0) and Marcus Smart is 11th (13.4). Smart, a 6-4 freshman, is the team’s leading rebounder at 7.4 per game.
The Cowboys are holding their opponents to just 57.6 points per game, while the Bears are averaging 80.1. Five of OSU’s last six opponents scored less than 60 points, including three held under 50 points (Tennessee, USF, Missouri State).