CONWAY, Ark. (UCA) - The University of Central Arkansas Bears were picked ninth and 10th in the two Southland Conference preseason polls released Wednesday.
The Bears, under the direction of head coach Clarence Finley, open the 2013-14 season on Tuesday, Nov. 12 at home against Hendrix College. UCA was the No. 9 choice in the coaches' poll and No. 10 in the sports information directors' poll.
"The transition is going very well,' said Finley, who was associate head coach the past three years under Corliss Williamson, who left this summer to become an assistant coach with the Sacramento Kings. "We're just trying to get the young kids playing at game speed. They were used to going at high school level, so teaching them how to get from one drill to the next at game speed was kind of tough for some of them early on.
"But they are working hard and trying to get better every day.'
The Bears are coming off a 13-17 season under head coach Corliss Williamson, one in which they won seven SLC games, the most since moving to NCAA Division I in 2006-07, and advanced to the SLC Tournament for the first time. UCA returns two full-time starters in senior guards DeShone McClure and LaQuentin Miles. However, Miles will miss the first semester due to eligibility issues.
McClure started 15 games last season and averaged 5.9 points and 2.3 assists per game. He also made 24 three-pointers and will be counted on for his perimeter offense this season with the loss of shooters Jarvis Garner and Robert Crawford, who both ranked in the top three in the league in three-pointers last season.
"Our leadership will definitely come from senior DeShone McClure,' said Finley. "He plays the wing spot for us, and can also be a combo guard, play the 1, 2 or 3. He's showing some leadership for us on and off the floor.
"And DeShone is going to have to score a little bit more for us this year. When we lost Garner and Crawford, we lost about 50 points there. And with the others we lost, that was about 60-61 points per game. It will be a different type of game we'll be playing because we won't be able to score as well as we scored last year. We'll have to defend a little bit better.
"DeShone is a solid defensive player when he's focused, and we're going to have to have him focused on the defensive side of the ball.'
Finley said transition defense is one of the main concerns at this point.
"Our style of play will be a little bit different,' he said. "We'll try to push the ball in transition, but I thought last year we had a lot of problems with shot selection. We're going to have to have better shot selection and we're going to have to move the ball a lot better this year. We won't be able to shoot it as quickly as we did last year. We're going to try and get better shots this year, share the basketball a little bit better.
"When we shot it quickly last year, our transition defense wasn't good. That was one of our main problem. That's where a game can be won or lost, in transition defense, so we're going to try to cut down our mistakes there.'