First, the little things that reflect the good:
• Last Thursday, the University of Central Arkansas Bears scored 69 points in a loss to Stephen F. Austin. That’s the most points scored this season against the Lumberjacks, which like to chop a team’s offense to shreds. Neither Texas A&M nor Oklahoma nor Tulsa scored that many.
• Saturday, Northwestern State, playing its seventh game in 14 days, hit a record 12 3-pointers (three in a row at one points) and made 30 of 37 free throws to turn back the Bears. Afterwards, NSU coach Mike McConathy termed the Bears "as talented a team as we’ve played all season."
The big things that reflects the bad:
• UCA lost both games, going to 0-4 in the SLC race. The Bears face a road swing against Sam Houston State and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi needing at least a split to have any sustainable hopes for relevancy in the league race.
This UCA team, as exciting, competitive and more cohesive than coach Corliss Williamson has had in his three season hasn’t learned how to win.
A scrappy team is eating scraps.
"Focus at the beginning of games," Williamson said. "We can’t wait to get down, then turn it out. Our coaches have talked a lot about this. We are right there, ready to turn the corner as a team and a program. But at the same time, we seem so far away."
Willliamson noted that teams that come back from double-digit margins — as they faced against SFA and Northwestern State — have to get some breaks.
Against SFA, two of the Bears’ most dynamic players, Jarvis Garner and Robert Crawford, had their worst games of the season, according to the coach. He conceded SFA’s defense was a big part of that.
Some of it is not playing smart basketball down the stretch. Against SFA, the Bears drew close with a 3-pointer, then surrendered a slam dunk that helped the Lumberjacks build a cushion. With 1:30 left, they were in strking distance before SFA got steal and got behind the defense for another dunk.
The Bears had one of their smoothest and best offensive spurts of the season against Northwestern State, closing within five in the second half.
"Then, we started exchanging two for three," Williamson said. "They (the Demons) got really hot from the 3-point line. You’ve got to be able to close on the shooters."
Can things be salvaged? Possibly. At least, to an extent. It’s a wide-open league race.
But the Bears are going to have to figure some things out and figure them out quickly.
"We are competing, particularly in the second half," Williamson said. "If we can find a way to have that competiveness and focus at the beginning of games, we have have some success."
A work still in progress needs a generator.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 501-505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org)