NACOGDOCHES, Texas (Press Release)– Stephen F. Austin took on the number one scoring defense in the league on Wednesday night and came up short with a 67-63 loss to the Sugar Bears. Seven was the lucky number that night as the lead changed between the two teams seven times and the score was tied seven times. Senior Taylor Ross had her fifth 20 point game of the season against Central Arkansas with 21 points and three assists. She went 5-9 in the field and a nearly perfect 11-12 at the line. Senior Brentney Branch had several fast-break layups to help accumulate for SFA's six buckets off fast breaks. She totaled 13 points and three assists on the night. Redshirt junior Stevi Parker rounded out the Ladyjacks in double-digits with 12 points and 6 rebounds. The SFA defense turned out 10 steals over the UCA six and forced 21 turnovers. On the offensive side, SFA shot 50 percent from the field and 88.9 percent at the free-throw line. However, the tale of the game was the rebound count. Central Arkansas outrebounded the Ladyjacks 32-17, which turned into 18 points off second chances.
"It hurts. It stinks. We gave ourselves a chance late, and I don't think we played our best game,"said head coach Mark Kellogg. "We didn't have everyone play their best game. When you play good teams, you have to have to be all clicking on all cylinders. I credit Central Arkansas that was a quality team, the best defensive team in our league by far. We just didn't defend well enough in that first half. I think that is what the difference was. We were scoring a little bit early. I thought that if we had 36 at halftime before the game that we would be in good shape. And then we didn't come out well in the third quarter, and that is probably the difference."
The UCA opening drive was cut short by SFA forcing a turnover. Parker then went and scored first for SFA with a triple, and Branch followed up with a lay-up off a senior Adrienne Lewis block. Both teams kept it neck and neck for the next five minutes. SFA thought they had a break with a jumper from Parker that put them up by three, but UCA scored on their next drive, making it 10-9 going into the first media timeout. Central Arkansas put two free-throws in to take their first lead of the night, but the Ladyjacks would only allow them a 20 second lead before sophomore Taylor Jackson and Parker put in back-to-back threes for the SFA 18-15 lead at the 1:37 mark.
UCA went on 6-2 run through the start of the second quarter to retake the lead forcing SFA to call a timeout at the 7:46 mark. The UCA lead grew to be as big as five points at the 6:58 mark, but an and-one situation from Branch cut the gap back to two. The scoring margin stayed within two points and was tied twice before the halftime buzzer. Highlights were from Ross going 4-4 at the line and two Branch buckets, but the Sugar Bears got the buzzer shot triple for the 41-36 lead going into the locker room.
After the intermission, the defense took over in the first three and a half minutes. UCA then went on a four point unanswered run to pull ahead 45-36 at the 6:34 mark. Ross drove for the basket to score the first points for the Ladyjacks, but the Sugar Bears answered back to keep the 11 point lead. SFA took a 7-6 run at the end of the third, highlighted by a triple from freshman Riley Harvey, but UCA kept their 10 point lead at the end of the third, 55-45.
Ross started the fourth taking two free-throws to activate a SFA run in the fourth. A big block from Harvey gave the Ladyjacks a momentum swing that cut the UCA lead to six points at the 5:49 minute mark. The Ladyjacks continued to hammer it on as Branch took a fast break pass from Ross to cap a 6-0 run that cut UCA's lead to four points at the 5:11 mark and forced UCA to call a timeout. Parker and Harvey teamed up with a bucket each and tie the game twice. UCA pulled away again after a free-throw attempts, but a floater from Ross tied it again at the 1:43 mark. UCA grabbed three more points in the final seconds to claim the win 67-63.
"We just got in a big deficit and then I thought later that we had a chances," finished Kellogg. "We tied it up but never could take the lead and in those situations if we could have taken the lead to get the crowd into it a little bit. I think that would have been to our advantage. They made a few more plays and we didn't down the stretch and that was the difference."