Courtesy UCA Athletics Department
THIBODAUX, La. — The last time Central Arkansas and Nicholls met, the eighth-seeded Colonels shocked the top-seeded Sugar Bears to bounce the Southland’s regular-season champions from the conference tournament in the opening round.
Thursday night, in the 2013 conference opener for both teams, the UCA Sugar Bears (8-4, 1-0 Southland) answered in convincing fashion – never trailing and leading by 20 or more for much of the second half en route to a 72-56 victory over the Colonels (8-4, 0-1).
“I’m happy with our effort and performance and I’m happy to start off conference play with a road win,” said first-year Central Arkansas head coach Sandra Rushing, making her Southland Conference debut. “The team played extremely hard, and I am really proud of the way we played defense. Any time you can win on the road, especially in this conference, is huge. Now we’ve got one more game we’ve got to finish on this road swing.”
Senior forward Megan Herbert notched her 71st career double-double with a season-high 33 points and 11 rebounds to lead all players, and hit eight free throws to give her 554 for her career to break the Southland career record held by UTSA’s Angel Singleton since 1998.
“I’m really happy for her breaking the record,” Rushing said. “She’s such a competitor and a winner, and I’m really happy to have the opportunity to coach her and all these young women.”
Herbert, who has averaged 23.3 points and 15.8 rebounds in her four trips to Stopher Gym, had 22 of her 33 points in the second half to help the Sugar Bears pull ahead by as many as 25 and pick up their 11th win in 14 tries against the Colonels.
“We felt like we definitely owed them, coming off last year’s tournament when they beat us by 20,” said Herbert, the nation’s active career leader in both double-doubles and rebounds. “We had a chip on our shoulder and a lot riding on this game. We had to come out and show that, yeah, we lost some people but we’re still the same, we’re still Central Arkansas and a team to be taken seriously.”
The Sugar Bears built a 16-point lead in the first half, holding the Colonels to 36.4 percent shooting and forcing them into 12 turnovers leading to 16 Sugar Bear points. UCA held a big advantage at the free throw line, going 17 of 24 compared to just 4-for-6 for the Colonels.
Courtney Duever had 18 points and eight rebounds, while senior Britney Gowans added six points and a career-high seven assists. Senior Desiree’ Rogers, who suffered a torn ACL 10 minutes into the teams’ last meeting, had five points and four assists but – more importantly – contributed heavily to the Sugar Bears’ defensive effort.
“I am really, really happy with Rae and her defense,” Rushing said. “I thought she played great defense. Really, the entire team did. A lot of times people don’t get credit for doing the little things, but tonight she did that for us and the success of the team. The first thing people look at is points, and she can score more, but I’m so proud of her and her effort defensively. I thought Britney came out and gave us a lot of energy. When she’s flat, sometimes we are flat as a team. But tonight she gave us a lot of energy.”
Alisha Allen had 21 points for the Colonels, with LiAnn McCarthy adding 11 and KK Babin 10. Babin was forced into six turnovers, and Allen committed four.
“That was a big part of our focus all week,” Herbert said. “We know those two are great players, and the key to getting a win was controlling them and keeping them in check.”
The Sugar Bears wrap up their conference-opening road swing Saturday at Southeastern Louisiana at 2 p.m.