Sugar Bears surge past SFA for second straight tournament title - Mar 13, 2017
It's the one word to best describe the defensive effort of the Central Arkansas Sugar Bears, who shook off a slow start to seize control of Sunday's Southland Conference Women's Basketball Tournament in a 60-35 win over Stephen F. Austin at the Merrell Center, sending head coach Sandra Rushing's program to the NCAA Tournament for a second straight year. SFA, which averaged more than 77 points per game in conference play, was held to less than half that total as the Ladyjacks shot a frigid 27.3 percent from the field. After scoring baskets on three of their first four possessions, head coach Mark Kellogg's team managed to find the nets just nine times the rest of the way. 'They've worked hard all year and never lost sight of the goal,' said Rushing, whose squad won their 17th straight game and will learn their first-round destination on Monday night. 'To do it back-to-back says a lot about this group of young ladies. 'We beat a very good basketball team in SFA, and I have a lot of respect for the job that they do there.' En route to improving to 21-1 in road/neutral games against Southland opponents over the past two seasons, the Sugar Bears (26-4) held conference Player of the Year Taylor Ross (5'6''-G) to just eight points before the SFA guard fouled out early in the fourth quarter. After spotting the Ladyjacks (25-7) a quick 5-0 lead, the Sugar Bears worked back into the contest, taking the lead for good on Maggie Proffitt (5'7''-G)'s three-pointer with 4:42 left in the first quarter. A three-point play by Stevi Parker (6'0''-F) allowed SFA to close within 13-12 at the 1:36 mark, but Central Arkansas scored the last five points of the quarter to own an 18-12 advantage. 'I feel like our guards did a great job of shutting down theirs,' said Proffitt, who was named the Tournament's Most Valuable Player. 'I think we kind of frustrated them and we fed on that. I really give a lot of credit to Bhrea (Griffin), Angel (Williams) and (Taylor) Sells. I think they frustrated Ross. She's a great player, but I feel like we did a great job.' Parker's basket would be the last for SFA for nearly 11 minutes as Central Arkansas' defense began to methodically impose their will. The Ladyjacks connected on just two of their nine field goal attempts in the second quarter, and while the rim proved unkind to SFA, the Sugar Bears slowly began to put distance between themselves and the Ladyjacks while pushing closer to their destiny. 'We just couldn't get any offensive rhythm whatsoever,' said Kellogg. 'I thought the first few minutes we were actually playing at pace and tempo and liked what we were doing, but the game slowed down dramatically from there.' Proffitt and Taylor Baudoin (5'11''-F) combined to score seven of Central Arkansas' last nine points of the first half, with Baudoin racking up the last four to give the Sugar Bears a 27-20 halftime edge. After Kennedy Harris' basket put SFA within 28-22 at the 8:51 mark of the third quarter, the Sugar Bears held the Ladyjacks to a jumper from Parker the rest of the period as the wear of a third game in as many days began to show on SFA. Outscoring the Ladyjacks 14-2 over the final 8:51 of the third, Olivia Williams' jumper near the end of the quarter expanded the gap to 42-24 entering the final ten minutes, where the relentless pressure of the Central Arkansas defense refused to let up. SFA continued to fight, yet were unable to solve the pressure of the Sugar Bears, who put the game away with five straight points from Profitt to make the score 54-31 with 5:31 to go. 'It's my first one,' said Central Arkansas' Kierra Jordan (6'0''-C), who had nine points and 13 rebounds in 26 minutes off the bench. 'We really want to win at least one of these NCAA games.' 'The second one was harder. A lot harder,' said Rushing. 'You win the first one, and people are hungry. You wonder if your players are still going to have that hunger in their gut, and they did.' To be able to represent both the conference and Central Arkansas is an honor that Rushing cannot wait to repeat, especially riding the school's purple bus. 'That means a lot to us,' she said. 'I have so much pride getting on and off that bus and our players do, too. I want people to see we're from UCA.'
Courtesy of Southland
Southland Conf. Tournament Final: Central Arkansas - Stephen F. Austin 60-35 Southland Conf. Tournament Semifinals: Central Arkansas - A&M-Corpus Christi 62-44 Stephen F. Austin - Lamar 62-48
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