After five frustrating outings, the University of Central Arkansas Sugar Bears finally stopped the bleeding Saturday afternoon.
The Sugar Bears (14-11, 7-7), playing their best basketball in more than a month, both offensively and defensively, gave Sam Houston State a thorough whipping, 71-51, in the Farris Center, halting both a five-game losing streak and three on their home court.
The Bearkats (13-12, 9-4) had begun their two-game northern swing as the Southland Conference leader. They return to Huntsville after two poundings (losing to Oral Roberts, 90-40), Thursday night.
The UCA women, in pink uniforms and shoelaces in their PinkZone game for cancer awareness, kept themselves in sixth place in the SLC standings. Eight teams qualify for the postseason tournament.
"We put together almost a 40-minute game," said UCA coach Sandra Rushing. "Everybody was on the same page and played their role."
The Sugar Bears started in control from the start after some torrid shooting and a nifty lane maneuver by Courtney Duever. Then, Britney Gowans hit three straight 3-pointers. Megan Herbert was her usual steady self. Kelcia Bufkin, starting at point guard, made a difference in the cohesiveness of the Sugar Bear offense, which had only six turnovers and a 13-4 advantage in points off turnovers.
"Kelcia (four points, four assists, no turnovers) settled us down and got us where we needed to be in running our offense."
UCA, which led 37-23 at the half, shut down the Bearkats on the inside, controlled the boards and got some balance in scoring.
The Bearkats, in a rut from the start, hit only nine of 28 shots the first half and one of nine free throws. They missed both ends of two, two-shot situations and all end of one three-shot opportunity. The three straight misses were by Britni Martin, the leading free-throw shooter in the Southland Conference.
With the Sugar Bears leading by 13, Duever drove for a basket and a free throw to put her team up 42-26 at 18:31 of the first half, pretty much draining the Bearkats of any remaining emotion.
Duever, nine of 17 from the field, had one of the best outings of her career with 28 points and 10 rebounds. Herbert had 19 points and 13 rebounds. Gowans, four of five from 3-point range, had 14 points.
"Our defensive intensity was what we wanted," said Rushing. "This team does not know what it is capable of doing."
The Sugar Bears don’t get much rest, traveling to Oral Roberts on Tuesday.