The days of conference tournament woes are over for the women’s basketball team. Members of the University of Central Arkansas Sugar Bear Basketball team are now officially Southland Conference Champions.
After a five-year losing streak in the tournament, the team secured the title on March 13 after defeating the Sam Houston State Bearkats 69-62 in front of 882 people at Merrell Center in Katy, Texas. The win gave the program their first conference championship since the university made the transition from division two to division one in 2010. Head Coach Sandra Rushing spoke to the team before the game about how far they’ve come.
“It was funny, we put all the hours and minutes of practice that we’ve played and it came down to 40 minutes,” Rushing said. “We have 40 minutes to go to get a championship. This team started back in June. The girls made the commitment and they’ve worked extremely hard and they’ve found a way to win.”
Maggie Proffitt was the leading scorer for the Sugar Bears the entire season, had no reservations all season long about the team’s work ethic and effort leading up to the championship game.
“The win feels amazing,” Proffitt said. “We’ve been working extremely hard since June and it’s a great feeling to see that hard work pay off.”
The Sugar Bears (28-3, 16-2 SLC) capped what has turned out to be a miraculous conference season by winning 16 conference games and waltzing into the Southland Tournament with the number one seed.
The team will now travel to the number three seed Louisville Cardinals and they couldn’t be more excited to play a top team like Louisville.
“We’re feeling great, we’re excited about this opportunity,” Rushing said.
Junior guard Brianna Mullins led the way in scoring against the Bearkats in the championship game, contributing 17 points to the teams win. Mullins was 6-11 from the field and adding one assist on the afternoon. Proffitt followed Mullins in scoring by adding 11 points and two assists.
“This has been our goal since we were freshman,” Mullins said when asked about the feeling of winning a conference championship. “We had to work very hard to get here.”
Central Arkansas outrebounded Sam Houston 49-27 in the game. The telling tale of the game was UCA commanding the offensive boards 19-8.
Closing out the game was important for the Sugar Bears as they held Sam Houston to just a single field goal in the final three minutes of the game.
Bench points also came at a premium for the Sugar Bears as a quartet of sophomore forward Taylor Baudoin, junior guard Sandy Jackson, junior center Taylor Strickland and freshman guard Olivia McWilliams contributed 21 points and 16 rebounds to the win.
Leading up to the tournament, UCA earned a double-bye privilege bypassing the first two rounds of the competition, and heading straight into the semifinals of the tournament.
This stemmed from the earning the number one seed in the regular season.
To book their ticket to the championship game, UCA team members had to endure a tough test from the McNeese State Cowgirls in a semifinal contest.
In a 72-64 win over the Cowgirls, junior guard Sandy Jackson led the team in scoring against McNeese, hitting 18 points and adding an assist in 19 minutes of play.
During the second half of the game, after the Cowgirls were down by as much as 12 in the first half, the Cowgirls mounted a furious comeback to bring the score to within one.
UCA was able to secure the win after scoring the next nine points in the last five minutes of the game and advance to the final.
Preparing for the NCAA tournament will be just the same for the Sugar Bears but with a little extra motivation attached to the game.
The Sugar Bears have never step foot in the tournament so this game will be something special for the team.
“Anything can happen in March. I want us to go in and play hard and continue to do the things we’re doing,” Rushing said.
The Sugar Bears will travel to Louisville, Ky, an eight hour bus ride to play the Cardinals. The game will be on March 18 at 2:30 p.m. at KFC Yum! Arena. The game can be seen live on ESPN 2.
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