Central Arkansas celebrate Southland Tournament Title - Mar 15, 2016
The disappointment and frustration of previous Southland Conference Women's Basketball Tournaments are but a thing of the past for Central Arkansas. On Sunday, the Sugar Bears finally turned March Sadness into Gladness. A concerted effort of rebounding, along with clutch free throw shooting in the closing seconds, helped carry top-seed Central Arkansas past seventh-seed Sam Houston State 69-62 at Merrell Center, which gave the Sugar Bears (28-3) their first trip into the NCAA Tournament for the first time since becoming a Division I program in 2010. "It was a different approach," senior Jameka Watkins (5'6''-PG) said. "This year was different. We were more prepared and worked hard for it since June." After being eliminated after one game in each of the past three seasons, Central Arkansas relentlessly attacked the glass all afternoon to assure themselves of avoiding a fourth straight year of heartache. The Sugar Bears out rebounded Sam Houston State 46-27, yet it was the 19-8 edge in offensive rebounding that were a huge difference in the contest. "It was something that we had struggled with against McNeese State," Central Arkansas coach Sandra Rushing said of the team's effort in Saturday's semifinal win. "We knew we had to control the boards." Despite playing in their fourth game in as many days, the Bearkats (13-19) stayed within range of the Sugar Bears for much of the fourth quarter. Freshman Kamry Orr (5'8''-G)'s 3-pointer pushed Sam Houston State to within 65-62 with 22 seconds left, but first-team all-conference guard Maggie Proffitt (5'7''-G) hit four free throws and added a crucial rebound in a nine-second span that finally held off a Bearkats that fell short of its second Tournament title. "They gave us everything we could handle," Rushing said. Despite a 2-for-9 shooting effort from Proffitt, the Sugar Bears were able to look elsewhere for scoring punch, as Brianna Mullins (5'6''-PG) scored a team-high 17 points, while Kendara Watts (5'10''-F) added ten points, including a jumper late in the third quarter which put Central Arkansas up for good at 53-52. The bench also contributed greatly, as the quartet of Taylor Baudoin (5'11''-F), Sandy Jackson (5'8''-G), Olivia McWilliams (5'7''-G) and Taylor Strickland (5'11''-C) combined for 21 points and 16 rebounds. Despite the physical mileage they had ridden to arrive to Sunday, the Bearkats kept finding ways to stay in the game, as they erased a 36-26 lead midway in the second quarter by closing out the first half with a 9-0 run that was capped off by a 3-pointer from Orr. Sam Houston State took the lead early in the third quarter and traded baskets with Central Arkansas until Mullins' go-ahead basket put them in catch-up mode. Senior Angela Beadle (6'3''-C) had 25 points and 10 rebounds, closing out her career with the Bearkats with 10 straight double-doubles, which helped lead her to be named the Tournament's Most Valuable Player. "I think the confidence from my teammates and my coaches played a factor," Beadle said. "Seeing that size was an advantage on my part, they kept telling me, 'keep working the inside.' It was great passing from all the players along with the confidence they gave me." While the loss ended the Bearkats' season, Coach Brenda Welch-Nichols was excited about what the run to the championship game meant for the program. "We've been through a lot of ups and downs," she said. "We've had some highs and lows, but for the last four weeks, we've definitely had a lot of highs," As for Central Arkansas, Monday night will have a very special feeling as they will await to find out where they will travel to play in the opening round. "We're excited," Watts said. "We're prepared to do whatever it takes to go to the next level. We have another game coming up, so we'll do whatever it takes." Joining Mullins, Beadle and Sam Houston State teammate Shernise Robertson (5'6''-G) on the All-Tournament Team were Houston Baptist's Anna Strickland (6'1''-F-93) and Jayln Johnson (5'5''-PG-93) of McNeese State. POSTGAME QUOTES: Central Arkansas Head Coach Sandra Rushing On today's game… "I'm so proud and happy for this team. They've worked extremely hard all year long and they found a way to win. They really refuse to lose. You can see how much fight, pride and heart this team has. Sam Houston State played four games in four days. They gave us everything we could handle. They're very well coached and their guard play is tremendous inside. This is huge for our program. I'm so happy these seniors get to experience this opportunity. They've laid the foundation and it's exciting to see them celebrate out there. I've said all along, you win with people. My staff has been wonderful this year. They're passionate about the game. They work hard. I'm really excited that we get the chance to go to the NCAA. I can't say it enough. There's a lot of people, from our sports information, to our bus driver, to our athletic trainer - there's things behind the scenes that makes program successful. That's important. We talk about it a lot as a team. You stay humble and appreciate the things around you. I'm just really, really happy to be going to the tournament." On your bench and offensive rebounds… "That's something we were struggling with yesterday against McNeese State. Everything is going together right now, but we talk about getting more offensive boards. The bench went it and did a good job sparking us. I thought Sandy Jackson (5'8''-G) and Olivia McWilliams (5'7''-G) did a great job. We knew we had to control the boards and get second and third chances." Central Arkansas Senior Forward Kendara Watts (5'10''-F) On today's game… "We knew every second counted we knew we just had to play together and to have each other's back. That was the main part. Our team has each other's back so I just had faith in my teammates and knew we were going to pull through." On defending Angela Beadle (6'3''-C)… "We knew she was going to score so we just tried to stop her as much as possible to have each other's backs and help each other out." Central Arkansas Senior Guard Jameka Watkins On reaching the NCAA Tournament… "It's surreal, I mean we've been working towards it all year but I when we got here it was like, 'wow, really did it.' It's a dream that started back in June, but to actually do it, it's like, 'wow.'" On transferring to a championship team… "That's one thing I saw with the coaching staff and the teammates. I just was they had the potential to be great and I just wanted to be a part of it." Sam Houston State Head Coach Brenda Welch-Nichols On the season… "I just want to definitely thank my team, they did a tremendous job. This was an awesome run that they did and I just want to praise them. We've been through a lot of ups and downs. I feel like I've been on a roller-coaster; we've had some highs and lows but in the last four weeks we've definitely had a lot of highs. This has been fun and I love these girls." On Beadle's tournament play… "She wanted it, she was hungry and she was ready and she was mature and she was the MVP all along. There were games early on where she found that groove and there was no stopping her. I'm extremely proud of what she has done for this program for five years and what she's going to do when she leaves here." Sam Houston State Senior Center Angela Beadle (6'3''-C) On earning Tournament MVP… "I think the confidence from my teammates and my coaches really played a factor in today and yesterday, especially seeing that size was an advantage on my part. They just kept telling me to keep working on the inside and keep fighting and, if it's not there the first time, kick it back out and keep posting up. Honestly it was great passing from my teammates and the confidence they had in me." Sam Houston State Junior Post Player Jasmine McCants (6'0''-F/C) On learning from Beadle… "I've never met anyone like Angela Beadle (6'3''-C)], but she's a leader. She really motivated me and I want to do the same thing she did this year next year and come back and win."
Southland Conf. Tournament Final: Central Arkansas - Sam Houston State 69-62 Southland Conf. Tournament Semifinals: Central Arkansas - McNeese St. 72-64 Sam Houston State - Northwestern St. 78-71
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