NATCHITOCHES, La. (UCA) — Two months ago, after a loss at defending conference champion Abilene Christian, Central Arkansas sat at 1-2 in Southland Conference play.
The rocky start, head coach Sandra Rushing’s faith in her team never wavered – telling the Sugar Bears then that “we’re going to win this thing.”
And, two months later, they did.
In fact, since then they’ve done nothing but win.
On Saturday, the Sugar Bears secured the 2016-17 Southland Conference regular season championship, defeating Northwestern State 62-51 at Prather Coliseum for their 15th consecutive victory and second league title in the last six years. With the win, they also secure the top seed in next week’s Southland Conference tournament for the second straight season – the first time a Southland team has done so since 2002.
The Sugar Bears (24-4, 16-2 Southland) left little doubt on Saturday, trailing for only 19 seconds and spending most of the game with a double-digit lead as they held the Lady Demons (13-16, 7-11) to 30 points below their home scoring average and improved their scoring defense average – which was ranked 4th nationally coming into Saturday – to 53.1 points per game.
The Columbus, Miss. tandem of junior Taylor Baudoin and senior Maggie Proffitt combined for 43 points, with Baudoin pouring in a career-high 23 on 10-for-13 shooting while also pulling down 7 rebounds to tie Kierra Jordan for the team lead. Proffitt added 20 points, knocking down 4-of-7 (57.1 percent) from 3-point range to raise her career total to 258 – fourth most in Southland history and 13 from the Central Arkansas all-time record.
It was Proffitt’s 8th 20-point game of the season, including six in conference play. Over the last nine games, Proffitt has averaged 18 points per game over the last half of the conference season, and has reached the 20-point plateau in three of the Sugar Bears’ final four games.
Brianna Mullins led the Sugar Bears with 4 assists and 3 steals, also getting 4 rebounds as Central Arkansas outrebounded NSU 32-23. Raquel Logan added a team-high 4 blocks, while also putting up 7 points, 4 rebounds and 2 steals.
After the game, the Sugar Bears were presented with their championship trophy by Southland Commissioner Tom Burnett.
The championship is the second in the last six seasons for the Sugar Bears, who also took the league crown in 2012. They will be looking for their second consecutive Southland tournament championship and NCAA tournament berth, and by virtue of claiming the top seed have a double bye into next Saturday’s semifinals at the Merrell Center in Katy, Texas. where they await either 4th-seeded New Orleans, 5th-seeded Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, or 8th-seeded Northwestern State.
A win would put them into the championship game next Sunday at noon on CBS Sports Network.
They will enter the tournament having won 52 of their 60 games over the last two seasons – a winning percentage of .867 – and are 19-1 (.950) against Southland teams in road and neutral site contests during that span.
The Sugar Bears will share the title with Abilene Christian, which defeated Houston Baptist later on Saturday to also finish at 16-2 in Southland games. ACU, in its final season of the four-year reclassification period to Division I, is ineligible for the league tournament.
The championship is the 5th regular-season title for Rushing in the past 12 seasons, having won four in a row at Delta State in the Division II Gulf South Conference from 2006-09.
With the championship-clinching victory coming on the road, the Sugar Bears will have a proper celebration at home on Sunday, with a net-cutting ceremony in the Farris Center at 2:00pm. The public is invited to attend the event, which is free of charge.