(Courtesy: UCA Athletics)
CONWAY, Ark. (KTHV) - After trailing by three at halftime, Central Arkansas quickly took the lead - and control of the game - early in the second half as the Sugar Bears dominated the final period to pull away from Houston Baptist 67-54 in the Farris Center on Saturday in their first meeting as Southland Conference foes.
Down 32-29 at the break, the Sugar Bears (8-5, 2-0 Southland) scored six points in the first 36 seconds of the second half to take the lead from the Huskies (4-9, 0-2) and kept it the rest of the way as they outscored HBU 38-22 over the final 20 minutes.
"I'm very pleased with the way we fought and excited to be 2-0," said UCA head coach Sandra Rushing. "I thought in the first half they were beating us down the floor and getting some transition baskets, but we played much better in the second half and got the win against a very good team. I'm very happy with this win - we've got to keep winning at home."
The Sugar Bears started the second half with a layup and free throw by freshman guard Brianna Mullins just seven seconds in to tie the game, then took the lead for good on another basket and free throw, this time from senior guard Micah Rice with 19:24 to play.
The Huskies trailed by just one with under 14 minutes to go, but the Sugar Bears then scored six straight to push the lead to seven at 49-42 with 12:05 remaining. HBU strung a couple of baskets together a few moments later to trim the Sugar Bear lead to three at 53-50 with eight minutes remaining, but UCA countered with a 12-0 run over the next six minutes to put the game away with a 65-50 lead with 2:14 to go.
Sophomore guard Jameka Watkins, making her second start of the season, came up big for the Sugar Bears with a career-high 17 points - hitting 5 of 8 from the field, including both of her 3-point attempts, and 5 of 6 from the free throw line. She also added two rebounds, steals and assists.
"I thought she did a great job for us today," Rushing said. "Not only shooting, but defensively as well. We'd talked to her - the last game they were backing off and letting her shoot and she wasn't always looking to shoot. Today, she came up to me and told me she was looking to shoot. And it worked out for us."
Courtney Duever had 14 points for the Sugar Bears and Rice added 10, including 4-of-5 at the free throw line after coming in just 7-of-20 (35 percent) for the season. Rice also tied a career high with a team-leading eight rebounds as the Sugar Bears dominated the glass 41-24.
"We shot 75 percent at the free throw line and out-rebounded them and that's the difference in the ballgame," Rushing said. "That's something we've talked about - rebounding and defense wins championships. I thought Micah did a great job of leading us in the second half, and Courtney made some big plays for us as well. Overall I'm pleased with the win, but there are some things we've got to work on before we go to Oral Roberts next weekend. We're still missing some little shots underneath the basket, and we know teams are trying to keep us out around the perimeter instead of letting us play in the post. We're dribbling around too much outside. So we've got to get back in the gym and fix all of that."
The Sugar Bears committed just three turnovers in the second half and finished with 15 to HBU's 16. After having just two points off turnovers in the first half to 12 for HBU, the Sugar Bears converted miscues into 11 second-half points to just four for HBU. With 20 offensive rebounds, the Sugar Bears rang up 18 second-chance points to just four for HBU.
The Huskies' Shanice Steenholdt entered the game as the Southland's second-leading scorer at 18.8 points per game and leading rebounder at 9.6, and was held to 10 and 6 on Saturday. She and Erin McGarrachan led the Huskies with 10 points each.
The win improves the Sugar Bears' all-time record against the Huskies to 3-1, though was their first meeting as league rivals. The Sugar Bears won two previous meetings in 2010 and lost in Houston in the first meeting between the teams in 2008.
After being home for their last six games, the Sugar Bears will take to the road for their next three. Following an open date on Thursday, they'll travel to Tulsa to take on Oral Roberts next Saturday, then head to Texas for a two-game swing at Southland Conference newcomers Incarnate Word and Abilene Christian the following week.