The University of Central Arkansas Sugar Bears will try to expand a three-game winning streak and solidify sole possession of first place in the Southland Conference women’s standings when they host Stephen F. Austin on Saturday afternoon.
The Sugar Bears’ 73-61 victory over Northwestern State at the Farris Center on Thursday, combined with SFA’s loss to Oral Roberts, gave the Sugar Bears (11-6, 5-1) sole possession of first place. The Lady Demons fell to 10-8, 3-3.
After trailing 29-27 at the half, the Sugar Bears began the second half with a 9-0 run and kept control the rest of the way, shooting 60.9 percent from the field in the period.
"The first half, we took the shots they wanted us to take," said UCA coach Sandra Rushing. "The second half we had much better shot selection. Defensively, we had to figure out how to stop their runs."
The Sugar Bears also had nice balance and took care of the ball. They had only seven turnovers an placed four players in double figures.
STAT LEADERS: Freshman guard Brianna Mullins led with 23 points, six rebounds and five assists. She scored 17 in the second half.
Senior post Courtney Duever added 19 points and 10 rebounds, 13 in the second half. Maggie Proffitt and Micah Rice added 11 points.
Northwestern forward Trudy Armstead scored 17 points the first half on seven-of-10 shooting. She was five of 11 the second half and finished with 29 points, one off her career high. Six of those points were 3-pointers late in the game after the outcome had been decided.
KEY STAT: The Sugar Bears hit 21 of 26 free throws, 10 of 12 the final 1:23 as the Lady Demons tried to extend the game and possessions by fouling.
KEY TIME: "Micah played 36 minutes and Courtney played 40 and that was big for us" Rushing said. "Jameka Watkins did an excellent job defensively and played more of her role."
The line was clearly drawn Thursday night in a matchup of 1-4 teams in the Southland Conference.
The foul line.
The Bears (4-13, 1-5) hit only 14 of 26 free throws and, in the final six minutes, missed the front of a one-and-one and both ends of a two-shot foul. Meanwhile, the Demons (6-11, 2-4), connected on 31 of 37 free throws and hit 14 of 15 (nine in a row at one point) in the final 8:50 to pull away to a 76-68 victory.
"It’s a sore spot for us," said UCA coach Clarence Finley, whose team is at the bottom on the conference standings in free-throw percentage. "We work on free throws every day. We shoot free throws under pressure after every drill. If we miss, the players run lines. It’s in our minds. We have been practicing free throws on the goals we shoot at. I’m probably going to pull the goals on the side (at the Farris Center) and shoot on them, too.
"We need to keep shooting. We shot 53.8 percent. We’re going to have to get that up to about 70 percent to win games."
STAT LEADERS: Northwestern State sophomore point guard Jalen West was 11 of 13 at the line on the way to 28 points. "We tried everything on him," Finley said. "He was a man. He was the difference in the ballgame."
UCA senior guard LaQuentin Miles became the 21st player in UCA history to score 1,000 career points, finishing with a team-high 23 points. He is the first to reach that milestone since Marcus Pillow in 2009. However, the Bears shot just 36.4 percent from the field and 53.8 percent (14 of 26) from the free-throw line.
Miles, however, did not start as Finley shook up his lineup to send a message.
"After the Abilene Christian loss, the coaching staff decided that we are going to put our best defensive players on the floor — those who apply ball pressure, contain the driver and give second and third efforts. We wanted to send a message to LaQuentin to play defense. He improved and but he is still on a learning curve as far as being a pure point guard, which we need."
CHANGE IN DEFENSE: The Bears stunned the Demons a bit by coming out in a zone defense and slowing the game down. Northwestern State entered the game second in the country in scoring offense and the both teams were at the bottom of the SLC standings in scoring defense.
It was awkward. The teams combined for 10 turnovers in less than five minutes.
"The defense was better but we needed more on offense," Finley said. "We missed some layups. This was a situation every possession counted and we didn’t make the most of our opportunities."
SATURDAY: League-leading Stephen F. Austin (17-2, 6-0) comes to town for a 4 p.m. game.
"Despite our losses, spirts are still high," Finley said. "We’re playing a good, well-coached team. We are going to have to take care of the basketball, share the basketball and get good shots."