UCA Women are a win away from NCAA Tourney
Once again, the Sugar Bears are playing for a Southland Conference tournament championship and an NCAA Tournament berth.
For the second straight season, Central Arkansas will look to earn the league's automatic bid to the big dance as the top-seeded Sugar Bears held off a rally from 5th-seeded Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and pulled away late for a 62-44 victory in Saturday’s first semifinal at the Merrell Center.
The Sugar Bears will face 3rd-seeded Stephen F. Austin – which defeated 2nd-seeded Lamar 62-48 in the late game – for the championship at noon on CBS Sports Network.
After starting the game with a 13-0 run and keeping the Islanders (14-18) off the board for more than seven minutes, the Sugar Bears (25-4) kept the lead the rest of the way – leading 15-4 after the first quarter and by as many as 13 in the opening half. But the Islanders would not go away easily, rallying in the second half to cut the UCA lead to as little as three at 44-41 with 7:49 to play.
But it would be all Sugar Bears down the stretch, as Central Arkansas closed the game out with an 18-3 run over the last 6:45, including 11 straight, to win their third consecutive game at the Southland tournament and extend their winning streak to 16.
Taylor Baudoin had 17 points and 13 rebounds for the fourth double-double at the Southland tournament in Sugar Bear history, with 4 points and 5 boards coming in the final period. But it was senior first team all-conference guard Maggie Proffitt who provided the offensive spark when the team needed it most, scoring 8 of her game-high 21 in the final quarter including seven in a row for Central Arkansas after the Islanders had cut the lead to three.
With the Sugar Bears up just 44-41, Proffitt drilled one of her three 3-pointers to push the lead to six with 6:45 left. After an Islander basket to cut the lead back to four, Proffitt answered with a pair of baskets in less than a minute to push the lead back out to eight with 3:50 to go. A layup from Baudoin and a three-point play from Kierra Jordan extended it out to 56-43 with 2:02 left, and the Sugar Bears closed it out with baskets from Raquel Logan, Brianna Mullins, Baudoin and a Proffitt free throw to pull away for their largest margin of victory ever in the Southland tournament.
The Sugar Bears shot 44.6 percent for the game while holding the Islanders to just 30.9 percent. Central Arkansas won the battle on the glass 43-28, including 30 defensive rebounds on 39 missed Islander shots – 77 percent of the opportunities.
Proffitt had 21 to lead all scorers, the fourth 20-point game at the Southland tournament in program history, joining Megan Herbert in 2013 and Destinee and Desiree’ Rogers in 2011 and 2012. With her three 3-pointers, Proffitt pushes her career total to 261, 10 shy of equaling the program record set by Carone Harris during the program’s Division II era.
Baudoin’s 17-point, 13-rebound effort is the program’s fourth double-double at the Southland tournament and the 6th of her career at Central Arkansas and ties her career high in rebounds. Jordan had 10 points and 6 rebounds in 17 minutes, and Mullins added 8 points, 6 rebounds, a team-high 6 assists, a block and a steal while playing all 40 minutes.
Kassie Jones led the Islanders with 13 points, with no other Islander scoring more than 6.
Sunday’s championship will be the third meeting of the season between the Sugar Bears and Ladyjacks, with the Sugar Bears winning 67-63 in Nacogdoches in January and 70-58 in Conway a month later.
The Sugar Bears will be in the title game for the third time in seven years and will be seeking their second straight title and NCAA tournament berth, while SFA will be looking for its 16th tournament championship as they make their 20th finals appearance since 1988.